Cuban Exceptionalism? Openings and Closures for Alternative Food Networks in the (Post)colonial Caribbean

Speaker: Dr Marisa Wilson # GeoSciences, University of Edinburgh

1st Feb 2016

15:30 - 17:00

Staff Room, 6th floor, Crystal Macmillan Building (University of Edinburgh, George Square)

In this paper I compare and contrast two agri-food economies whose divergent histories and geographies of entry into global capitalist food networks have opened up or closed off spaces for locally-defined ‘alternatives’. I trace this uneven moral and political economic development in a region that was, from its colonial beginnings, wholly embedded in ‘mainstream’ industrial capitalist food networks: the Caribbean. Cuba and Trinidad share colonial histories and geographies as plantation economies and societies, with similar patterns of trade and finance, rural and urban infrastructures, socio-technical paradigms and symbolic values for external rewards and internal social differentiation. At least until the mid-twentieth century, these plantation pasts swayed knowledges and meanings, policies and practices surrounding food and agriculture in both places. How did Cuba and Cubans manage to disentangle themselves from highly globalised, industrial capitalist food networks that stemmed from colonial and (post)colonial systems of value, knowledge and governance, in order to develop more socialised and sustainable food networks? Given their similar colonial histories and geographies of food and agriculture, what kinds of material and symbolic processes enabled collective moral and political action in Cuba and not in Trinidad? Comparing these divergent (post)colonial agri-food economies provides an opportunity to understand whether and how spaces for alternatives are opened up or closed off in the course of particular place histories. This paper explores some provisional explanations to this admittedly ambitious task by asking how Cuban ‘exceptionalism’ in the domestic food and agriculture sector emerged from the early 1960s and flourished as collective political and moral action after 1989, while a so-called ‘plantation legacy’ based on highly industrialised and commodified food networks continued to develop on islands such as Trinidad.

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