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Past Distinguished Visiting Speakers

Previous Speakers

  • February 25, 2020: Miriam Toews, Talking about her novel, Women Talking 

  • October 8, 2019: Nandita Sharma, National Autochthonies and the Marking of Postcolonial National-Natives

  • October 7, 2019: Nandita Sharma, The Postcolonial New World Order and the Containment of Decolonization

  • November 22, 2018: Martijn Konings, The Speculative Logic of Capitalism: Or, Hyman Minsky as a Critical Social Theorist

  • May 10, 2018: Eric Tang, Race, Refugees and the Current Crisis

  • March 19, 2018: John Clarke, Austerity and After? Policies, Politics, and Ideologies

  • March 8, 2018: Janet Bauer, The Diaspora Imperative

  • February 26, 2018: Olga Speranskaya, Toxic-free Future: Health and Environmental Justice for Chemical Safety

  • September 27, 2017: Patricia Moser, Leadership, Women & the United Nations

  • March 6, 2017: Rhacel Salazar Parreñas, Mobilizing Morality: Migrant Domestic Workers in Dubai

  • October 13, 2016: Catherine Nolin, Transnational Ruptures in a Time of Impunity: Genocide, Mining & Migration

  • March 10, 2016: Imre Szeman, Pipeline Politics: Oil, Borders and Energy Futures

  • September 22, 2014: Kate McInturff, The Gendered Impact of Austerity

  • April 2, 2014: Shih-Jiunn Shi, Changing Politics of Social Policy in China: Blame Avoidance and Credit Claiming in an Adaptive Authoritarian State

  • March 27, 2014: Douglas Tewksbury, Digital Solidarity, Analog Mobilization: The Politics of Being-Together and the Social/Mobile Media Uses of the Quebec Student strike

  • March 20, 2014: John Hobson, Orientalization in Globalization: An Historical Sociology of the Promiscuous (Trans-Civilization) Architecture of Globalization

  • January 16, 2014: Mimi Thi Nguyen, The Hoodie As Sign, Screen, Expectation and Force

  • September 29, 2011:  Philip McMichael, 21st Century Development: Crisis and Renewal

  • March 9, 2011:  Victor Li, Globalization Without the World: The Allegorical Imperative

  • March 10, 2010:  Saskia Sassen,  The World's Third Spaces: Towards New Assemblages of Territory, Authority and Rights

  • March 18, 2009:  Boris Kargarlitsky, Empire of the Periphery: Russia and the World System

  • April 17, 2008: John McNeill, Empires of Energy: Peat, Oil and Coal and the International System Since 1580

  • October 11, 2007:  Aihwa Ong, Neoliberalism as a Technology of Governing

  • April 18, 2006:  Antonio Negri, The Multitude and United States Imperialism: Is a "New Democracy" Possible?

  • March 16, 2006:  Etienne Balibar, Strangers and Enemies: Further Reflections on the Aporias of Transnational Citizenship

  • February 3, 2005:  Ronen Palan, The Changing Topography of Globalization

  • February 12, 2004:  Michael Adas, Wary Vanguard: Sources of American Resistance to Globalization

  • October 31, 2002:  Ernesto Laclau, Contingency, Social Antagonisms and Globalization

  • October 17, 2002:  Aijaz Ahmad, Postcolonialism and Globalization: Changing Dynamics of Politics and Culture

  • February 5, 2001:  Michael Hardt, Globalization and Democracy

  • September 28, 2000:  Rey Chow, Collecting, Fidelity, Belonging: A Reading of Lao She's "Attachment"

  • March 2, 2000:  Arif Dirlik, Globalization as the End and the Beginning of History

  • February 26, 1999:  Linda Weiss, State Power and Asian Crisis

  • February 23, 1998:  Richard Higgot, Coming to Terms with Globalization?

An Interview with Philip McMichael

Agriculture must be at centre of development’s focus on managing future

By Mark Burgess, Graduate Student, IGHC MA in Globalization Studies Program

Agriculture must be “re-centered” as a source of socio-ecological sustainability rather than as an industrial economic sector, Cornell University’s Dr. Philip McMichael said in a September 29th public lecture hosted by McMaster University’s Institute on Globalization and the Human Condition (IGHC).

Peak oil extraction, the financial crisis, global warming and the collapse of order seen in the Arab Spring are interconnected, McMichael said, and all tied to food.

The challenge now is for development to focus on managing the future rather than improving on the past, he said, and to end the “fatal separation” of the natural and social sciences.

“Epistemically, surviving the future, in my view, means re-centering agriculture,” McMichael told the audience at Gilmour Hall. “Ironically, our development narrative has consigned agriculture to a secondary role, as servant to industrialization.”

McMichael marked 2008—with inflationary food prices he attributes to financial speculation and the move to biofuels for green energy—as a turning point. Agriculture, while both a significant source of greenhouse gases and ecosystem degradation, could also be the solution, he said, if local farmers’ place-based knowledge of ecosystems can be incorporated into a development paradigm that is currently too focused on price and industrialization.

The professor from Cornell’s Department of Development Sociology was the IGHC’s 17th Distinguished Visiting Speaker since the series launched in 1998, with other globalization luminaries such as Saskia Sassen, Antonio Negri, Michael Hardt and Arif Dirlik delivering public talks in past years.

In his introduction to McMichael’s lecture, IGHC director Robert O’Brien recalled the impact McMichael’s 1997 article “Rethinking Globalization: The Agrarian Question Revisited” had on him.

“Reading that article was like hitting me over the head with a shovel,” O’Brien said.

The lecture had a similar effect on the audience.

“You’ve scared me out of my senses,” one woman told McMichael during the question-and-answer session that followed.

There was plenty in the lecture to cause alarm, as McMichael cited news articles and reports from various intergovernmental bodies, as well as his own research.

More than one billion new consumers in 20 middle-income countries who wish to signal their new affluence by eating meat and driving cars are intensifying the demand for food, he told the lecture audience.

“Financial speculation compounds the problem,” he added. “The financial crisis contributed to speculation in commodity futures, encouraging investors to shift their funds into agricultural commodities and oil, driving up the price of land, food and farm inputs.”

Agriculture’s connection to rising greenhouse gases has been largely overlooked, McMichael said, even though it contributes up to one-third of emissions when land clearance is included.

Industrial biofuels, which he said the World Bank blames for 65 percent of the spike in food prices, can actually increase emissions via a “biofuel carbon debt.”

McMichael criticized development theory for being “fashioned as if human societies had no ecological basis” while informing agricultural and industrial practices that are dependent on extraction from nature and ignore the environmental impact.

Restoring biodiverse ecosystems is one of the most daunting challenges, he said, and one that our political institutions are especially ill-equipped to face.

McMichael referenced the United Nations’ 2005 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, which found that the world’s poor—often considered redundant in the development paradigm committed to industrialization and de-ruralization—are essential to understanding and managing ecosystems’ specific dynamics with their place-based knowledge.

“The ontological bias of our development paradigm toward commodification obscures socio-ecological services practiced by smallholders, fisher folk and forest dwellers, discounting their potential as a source of environmental knowledge to manage the future,” he said.

“Resolution of the limits of this bias requires incorporating values other than price into the development equation—which must now become about resilience rather than endless accumulation. The majority of human activity is local, non-monetized, and diverse, despite the reach of the universalizing market.”

McMichael argued that re-centering agriculture means adopting sustainable practices that take biodiversity into account but also involves revaluing farming in the social sphere and supporting those returning to the land.

He pointed to the UN- and World Bank-sponsored International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) from 2008 that called for a multifunctional role for agriculture that includes reducing poverty and social/gender inequality, stabilizing rural structures, reversing environmental degradation, and slowing global warming.

The report calls for natural, social and health scientists to work with local farmers, governments and civil society organizations to ensure the viability of the 350 to 500 million small farms that accommodate 42 percent of the world’s population, make up 80 percent of its agricultural land and account for 70 percent of its food supply, he said.

To strengthen the small farms, McMichael said the report calls for a move away from hierarchical development models and to instead build trust and to value farmers’ knowledge as well as natural and agricultural biodiversity.

In a seminar with Globalization students the following day, McMichael spoke of the need to combine food movements with elements of democracy and social justice to create a unified social movement. Local farmers’ markets, he said, should be connected to the social justice chain in urban areas.

The idea that small farmers are anachronistic needs to be discarded, he said, and the development paradigm we’ve internalized—that modernity is about urbanity and that places agriculture as the servant of the city—must be flipped.

Rather than forcing migration to urban slums, he argued, farming should be revalued so that people don’t want to leave small farms, and regulations that ruin small agriculture should be dismantled.

Learn more about Dr. Philip McMichael’s research