Framing the megarhetorics of agricultural development: Industrialized agriculture and sustainable agriculture

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In this chapter I juxtapose two contrasting agricultural "development" rhetorics: The rhetoric of industrialized agriculture emerging from multinational agribusiness giant Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), the "supermarket to the world," and the sustainable agricultural development model of the food democracy movement led by Indian transnational feminist activist Vandana Shiva. In doing so, I seek to analyze the megarhetorics of industrialized agricultural development and sustainable agricultural development that are currently being perpetuated and pitted against one another. As coeditors J. Blake Scott and Rebecca Dingo point out in the introduction to this collection, examining "development discourses" and their "taken-for-granted meanings about growth, progress, and beneficial effects" is important work for rhetoricians who can "untangle and explain the rhetorical structures, frames, appeals, and assumptions at work . . . by examining the rhetorical histories and intertexts behind them." Through these two examples of agricultural development rhetorics, I examine how rhetoric can be used as an "interpretive and productive toolbox" that allows us to "highlight, critique, and intervene in the hegemonic functions" of development discourses and consider how they are being perpetuated, especially with respect to our agricultural systems, which is a topic of increasing environmental, social, and political concern across the globe. In particular, by using such classical rhetorical concepts as epideictic and synecdoche to examine the rhetorics of agricultural development, I show the multifaceted and often very different meanings and motivations of development, thus "complicat[ing] the limiting notion[s] of development as a coherent expression of a single, totalizing, and inevitable force" (Scott and Dingo, this collection). In the case of ADM, charitable rhetorics, an ethos of partnership, and a focus on epideictic rhetoric are the major rhetorical elements at work. I examine how epideictic rhetoric, as Dale Sullivan has argued, is less a rhetoric of praise or blame, but a reinforcement of an orthodoxy in a pluralistic society-in this case ADM's rhetoric of grateful nationalism (340). In the case of the Shiva-led coalition Navdanya, I consider how rhetorical identification, synecdochal arguments, and visual rhetorics that draw on colonial and postcolonial historical legacies connect transnational cultural and economic flows of indigenous cultural resources (e.g., seeds) with the practice of biopiracy. As I juxtapose these two contrasting examples of development rhetorics and examine the local-global networks in which they are embedded, I also demonstrate how they lead to very different political and practical trajectories-with ADM seeking to expand its global reach, open markets, and protect its economic interests through national subsidies and tax breaks, and the Shiva-led coalition seeking to defend traditional practices of sharing and biodiversity against the encroachment of international patent law and structural adjustment policies. Examined alongside one another, the rhetorics of agricultural development embodied both in the ADM campaign and Shiva-led Navdanya coalition appear to embody vastly different philosophies and practices. Yet in these examples notions of "growth," "progress," and "benefit" are highly situated and contingent. While ADM and Shiva are interested in making larger cultural, social, and political arguments for their model of agricultural development and do so by drawing on common tropes of the local connecting with the global, they ultimately construct and rely on different rhetorical networks and thus link the local and global in dissimilar ways. Rebecca Dingo, citing Jeff Rice, asks rhetoricians to consider how a network model of rhetoric may allow us to study the "'associations, combinations, and juxtapositions' that enable an understanding of rhetorical connectivities" (494). Dingo makes clear that considering networks allows us to "better decipher the rhetorical and material impact of public policies by emphasizing the relationships, connections, occasions, and contexts that link" (494) different audiences, policies, and practices. This idea of a network is particularly important when studying agricultural development as food is traded across borders and governed by both national and international policies. As Dingo argues further, "rhetoricians must consider how the rise of neoliberal economics, neocolonial power relationships, and the permeability of nation-state borders creates transnational rhetorical links in public policy" (493). As I show here, we can see these sorts of links in the agricultural rhetorics that circulate globally. At the same time, however, both ADM and Shiva network their communication strategies to the "discursive arenas that overflow the bounds of both nations and states" to spread their message about preferred agricultural practices and development models and influence their various publics (Fraser). While Fraser is cautious about the blanket appropriation of the term "transnational public sphere," she argues that this term helps us map the "contours" of the transnational and help us account for the "flow of images and signs" or rhetorics across the borders of the nation-state (Fraser). Tracing flows and networks across these two case studies allows us to see how the rhetorics of agricultural development are caught in contradictions and uneven power relations, and how they lead to vastly different material effects and consequences for different stakeholders. ADM uses its powerful corporate marketing arm to construct and defend its national and transnational corporate ethos and economic interests. In contrast, Shiva employs various forms of transnational activism-books distributed across the globe, NGO organizing, public speaking engagements, direct action social protest at global development meetings and in the streets, letter writing, petitions, alternative treaties, and solidarity work to defend sustainable agriculture. This movement of discourses across borders allows Shiva to build coalitions between activists, farmers, and other stakeholders and build solidarity around food democracy and sustainable agricultural development practices. Meanwhile, ADM seeks to pull in another direction through expanding its global reach, opening markets, and using subsidies, tax breaks, and trade policies to maintain its profit margin, often at the expense of farmers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Megarhetorics of Global Development
PublisherUniversity of Pittsburgh Press
Number of pages25
ISBN (Electronic)9780822977414
ISBN (Print)9780822961727
StatePublished - 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Social Sciences


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