From the Plantation to the Fourth Industrial Revolution: Other Economic Geographies

Presented by Stefan Ouma

Monday, 27 July, 2020 - 16:00

As part of a larger project on a global history and critique of “efficiency”, in this presentation I argue that the plantation constitutes a model of “development” that still haunts us. A distinct form of organizing agriculture, and economy-making more generally, that builds on long-distance capital flows, a total or at least tight control of racialized and precarious forms of labour, a modernist take on agriculture (rational improvement, productivity growth, efficiency-seeking), the importance of scale and export orientation, and last but not least: a focus mono-cropping and structural homogenization. Even forms of agricultural production that are not plantation-like in form and scale cannot escape that spectre. Thus the “plantation” is at the heart of the socioecological crisis of our economic system; a system that from the very onset 500 years ago has built on cheap labour, energy, nature, food exploited elsewhere (Patel and Moore 2017). But the original plantation was more. In this “total environment” (Blackburn 1997: p.°260) labour was capital and thus could be fully controlled and treated as an object. This possibility partially resurfaces in digital times where artificial intelligence, algorithms, and other technological devices promise unseen possibilities for controlling the labour process – so much, that some even speak of the advent of new “digital Taylorism”.

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