LIVES VERSUS LIVELIHOODS? fumigants, farmworkers, and biopolitics in California’s strawberry industry

Monday 23 November 6.00 - 7.30pm

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LAW LT 106, Sydney Law School, University of Sydney


Discussing pesticides’ role in California’s strawberry industry – harm to consumers vs necessity for industry

Recent years have seen testy regulatory battles over the use of several chemical fumigants of great concern to California’s lucrative strawberry industry.  In this talk, Professor Guthman will discuss the debates that took place in California over two of these fumigants: methyl iodide and chloropicrin, debates which were largely cast as a trade-off between lives and livelihood. Activists, that is, consistently focused on the harm to bodies that the fumigants would cause, while industry consistently focused on how the reduction or loss of fumigants would precipitate a huge contraction of the industry. Strikingly, both sides invoked farmworkers, a population that has notoriously been marginalized and invisibilized – especially in California, but in today’s border-induced labor shortage is receiving more recognition. To make sense of this, and provide a novel read on an old debate, Guthman will bring to bear a relatively new literature on surplus populations and disposability, borne of a rapprochement between Marxian political economy and Foucauldian biopolitics. Among other things, this read will trouble the distinction between lives and livelihood.

Professor Julie Guthman is a geographer and professor of social sciences at the University of California at Santa Cruz, where she teaches courses primarily in global political economy and the politics of food and agriculture. She has published extensively on contemporary efforts to transform the way food is produced, distributed, and consumed, with a particular focus on voluntary food labels, community food security, farm-to-school programs, and the race and class politics of “alternative food.” Her publications include two multi-award winning books: Agrarian Dreams: the Paradox of Organic Farming in California, and Weighing In: Obesity, Food Justice, and the Limits of Capitalism.