Resistance to Empire: The Peasant Way

The New Peasantries: Struggles for Autonomy and Sustainability in an Era of Empire and Globalization, Earthscan (London), 2008

by Jan Douwe van der Ploeg

In The New Peasantries, Jan Douwe van der Ploeg offers a masterful depiction of the inner workings of Empire. In this respect, his work is a much-needed extension of the magnum opus by Hardt and Negri. In fact, it looks at Empire not so much through a focus on “boundary shifts located at the outer borders and on the politico-military aspects that are associated with them” (p. 235), but rather in its inner workings as an ordering principle.

In this respect, van der Ploeg focuses specifically on the changes occurring in the field of food and farming, where Empire appears as a “complex, multilayered, expanding and increasingly monopolistic set of connections (i.e. a coercive network) that ties processes, places, people and products together in a specific way” (p. 255). In particular, this re-patterning of food production in agriculture occurs in a way that suppresses all forms of agency beyond those which can be controlled at a distance from the core of the imperial constellation. In this respect, the many peasant innovations aimed at enabling the co-production of man and nature are systematically suppressed – if not outright outlawed – in favour of practices that streamline and engineer food production in ways that enable the syphoning of value towards the core, understood as the space from which control and access to the flows associated with production and consumption are determined. Read more