Political-cultural formation and food sovereignty: Constituting the indigenous peasantry in Argentina

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(Thesis) Ph.D.
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Under what conditions does social mobilization for food sovereignty (FS) lead to agrarian class formation (CF)? This question concerns the constitution of the indigenous peasantry into a social agent that gets organized to struggle beyond bread-and-butter demands. I address CF based on the case of Argentina's National Peasant and Indigenous Movement (MNCI). My aim is both to develop a class-analytical approach to FS and contribute to the theory of CF while advancing empirical knowledge on Argentina’s FS movements. My integrative literature review identifies a total of five challenges on the conceptual ambiguities of FS, which mostly revolve around tensions between (a) state-movement relationships, (b) local-national interests, (c) rural-urban conflicts, (d) individual-collective choices, and (e) sporadic mobilization-organizational continuity. I conceptualize FS as a mobilization outcome that potentially leads to agrarian CF beyond class-reductionist, culturalist and state-centric approaches to collective action. Four determinants of CF are distilled from the literature on social movements and FS: economic-class structures, regional cultures, state intervention, and leadership. Drawing on fieldwork evidence and secondary sources, I argue that the class-structural context in which Argentina’s FS struggles emerge is marked by the decline of small farming, deterioration of public health, destruction of native forests and violent land evictions under the state-promoted soy monoculture. Most agrarian mobilization instances do not result in CF, as the groupings may become coopted or dispersed by failing to sustain their collective position and unity. How grievances generated by class-structural processes become elevated to CF depends on the mediation of the three other factors. First, regional cultures speak to the creation of a unifying movement language organized around indigenous communitarianism and a broader claim to re-peasantization. Second, class agents’ collective position and unity are mediated by MNCI’s ability to interact with the state extracting popular-democratic policies without giving up its independence. Third is MNCI’s close coordination of active, participatory leadership mechanisms from the ground-up. This unified and engaged leadership at the community, provincial and national level is further consolidated thanks to the presence of movement-institutionalized mechanisms of leader training and stronger alliances with the classes of labor extended towards urban slums and student mobilization.
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Thesis advisor: Otero, Gerardo
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