Welcome to Land, Labour, & Liberation!

By Bengo

“The complexity of this whole world syndrome can be overwhelming, and yet to evade the complexity by taking the system apart to treat the problems one at a time can produce disasters. The great failings of scientific technology have come from posing problems in too small a way.  Problems have to be solved in their rich complexity” [i]

There is nothing that connects public health with ecology and social justice as much as the fact that we are but one hungry species among millions of others.  The basic need to fill our bellies is at the heart of human organization, especially the control of land and labour.

As societies have become more complex and globally intertwined, the production of food is more and more distanced from those who control the means of its production.  Changing ownership structures have long brought the consolidation of land and labour, seeds and breeds, fertilizer and pest control, into fewer and fewer hands.  This industrialization and commodification of food systems has had serious and far-reaching consequences, drastically affecting the determining conditions for people everywhere to lead healthy lives.

Land, Labour, and Liberation will examine stories from the struggle to bring control of the global food system back into the hands of the people.  The questions we must ask cut across divides of discipline, taking as their basis a shared project of liberation from systems of oppression and structural violence.  The rich complexity of these struggles include political, economic, historical, cultural, and epidemiological stories, and my focus will be on the way networks of power manifest themselves in the bodies of those most vulnerable and affected.

We might ask, for example, what the global campaign of land grabbing and peasant displacement in countries like Bangladesh has to do with rates of poverty, infectious disease, and gender-based violence there.  Patriarchal violence in the slums of Dhaka may have more than a fleeting connection with the country’s precious little farmland being leased out to global financial actors for the production of cash crops, and seized by the militarized government for development.

We might also explore how the growing uncertainty of farming due to conditions both socio-economic and ecological affects the mental health of farmers.  In India there have been a reported 200,000 farmers to commit suicide since 1997.  As climate change brings with it droughts, floods, and volatile global prices, how can we ensure the resilience of rural communities and those who live there?

Finally, in a “globalized” system that allows the evaporation of borders for wealth, power, and capital, but the erection of barriers for those displaced and dispossessed by those forces, questions of human migration become paramount.  What do the tropical foods and products we consume in our daily lives have to do with the refugees showing up at our borders?  How can we struggle for health for all when international aid often provides but a fig leaf for the reproduction of systems of oppression?

Join me as I attempt to tell these stories and others, embracing an approach that acknowledges the complex interconnectedness of problems, and starts from the principle that “all theories are wrong that promote, justify, or tolerate injustice”[ii]

[i] Richard Levins (2008).  “Living the 11th Thesis”. Monthly Review 59:8


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