Culture & Agriculture

a section of the American Anthropological Association

Category: Uncategorized (Page 1 of 22)

SfAA Annual Meeting

Please join Culture & Agriculture at the Applied Meetings in always sunny Philadelphia!

Again we are an official co-Sponsor. The deadline for submissions has been extended to October 31. When you submit, you will be able to direct your abstract for review by C&A. Questions?

Please contact Lisa Markowitz, this year’s section program chair. [email protected]

Interview with Thomas Pearson: Frac Sand Mining in Wisconsin

This interview is part of CAFE’s new series of interviews with authors of past CAFE articles. By conversing with authors about the ways their article came about, the challenges they faced in the research and/or writing process, and the ways the issue the article addresses has changed or shifted since publication we aim to provide a space for more informal discussion of the issues human/environment scholars face in research and writing while learning about how specific issues have changes in recent years. These first interviews are with authors from our June 2013 special issue on the anthropology of energy, titled Hazards So Grave: Anthropology and Energy.”

This first interview is with Thomas Pearson, an Associate Professor in the Social Sciences Department at University of Wisconsin-Stout, who wrote Frac Sand Mining in Wisconsin: Understanding Emerging Conflicts and Community Organizing.”


  1. Can you briefly share your research interests and how this article fits into your broader research agenda as it stands today?

For the past decade, I have been drawn to questions about environmental conflicts and their relationship to shifting meanings of place and democracy, themes I first explored through my doctoral research in Costa Rica, which focused on environmental activism around genetically modified seeds, intellectual property rights, and free trade agreements. When I began researching frac sand mining in Wisconsin, I initially sought to document grassroots organizing in response to a new extractive industry. At the time, it felt tremendously different from my experiences in Costa Rica. Looking back, I’m struck by how themes of activism, place, and democracy have been prominent in both projects.

  1. How did you get interested in this topic?

In 2009 I began teaching at the University of Wisconsin-Stout, located in rural western Wisconsin. During my first couple years I periodically heard about sand mining, but I knew nothing of its connection to hydraulic fracturing. In May 2011, a good friend of mine who lives in Morgantown, WV, sent me a picture of himself and his daughter at a demonstration against fracking. Then that fall, Gasland was screened at my university. I attended out of curiosity and afterwards several community members spoke passionately about frac sand mining and a proposed mining operation in my community. I began attending town meetings, initially as a concerned citizen, and it quickly evolved into a research project lasting nearly five years.

  1. Are you currently working on anything that updates your 2013 article or have you worked on anything since that builds upon this work?

Yes, definitely. In 2013, I was trying mostly to wrap my mind around an unprecedented and explosive issue and contribute an anthropological perspective to the ongoing public discussion. As activism in my community evolved and declined, my ethnographic research broadened to look at how people cope with industrial mining activity near their home, which I talk about in “Frac Sand Mining and the Disruption of Place, Landscape, and Community in Wisconsin,” published in Human Organization. I have also written a book titled When the Hills Are Gone: Frac Sand Mining and the Struggle for Community, due out this November with the University of Minnesota Press.

  1. Your article examines the emergent conflicts surrounding frac sand mining in western Wisconsin. Since the publication of your CAFE article in 2013, have there been any major developments or shifts in frac sand politics in the region or more broadly?

The industry continued to expand rapidly until about 2015. Many towns adopted ordinances asserting local regulatory control and in response the industry has pushed for state preemption of local authority, a phenomenon that has occurred in many states in relation to hydraulic fracturing and other issues. In 2016, the continued decline of oil prices erased demand for Wisconsin frac sand, sending the industry into a tailspin. Many operations stalled or went under. Things are beginning to come back this year, however, as oil prices tic upward and demand grows. After one boom and bust cycle, we appear to be on the cusp of another phase of frac sand mining development.

  1. You explain that one of your central concerns is that “the pace, scale, and powerful interests behind frac sand mining have created a structural imbalance that favors private companies involved in energy and resource extraction at the expense of local communities.” Has the power balance between local communities and private companies shifted at all? If so, how has this affected the negotiations between landowners, corporations, and government officials – and with what result?

In my forthcoming book, I try to show that very complex struggles play out at the local level. In general, towns where residents are organized have been more successful in stopping mining, or at least asserting regulatory control. I also examine, however, how the industry has cultivated sometimes problematic ties with town officials and community leaders, as well as engineering firms, university centers, and law offices. To circumvent local opposition, mining companies have pursued strategies that include everything from lobbying and financial donations to lawsuits and annexation. Changes at the state level are also having a significant impact. Governor Scott Walker has consistently eroded the regulatory capacity of the DNR and the Republican-dominated legislature has moved to reduce local control over land use decisions, though state preemption has been controversial and piecemeal.

  1. In the article conclusion, you make suggestions for future activist efforts around frac sand mining activism in Wisconsin. Have any of these prescriptions been taken up by activists? 

They were not so much “prescriptions” as observations of promising trends. Concerned citizens have definitely rallied around the defense of local control, largely in response to industry lobbying for state preemption. Several groups have also developed ties to the community rights movement, which seeks to move beyond reactionary, single-issue organizing and frames activities such as frac sand mining within a larger critique of corporate power. Local groups such as the Save the Hills Alliance have also broadened their focus, and connections with national anti-fracking, alternative energy, and democracy movements are being made through organizations such as FracTracker Alliance and activities such as the Democracy Convention.

  1. If you could rewrite the article today, is there anything you would change?

The article became a jumping off point for my forthcoming book, which allowed me to delve more deeply into stories about grassroots organizing, conflicts over place identity, the experiences of people whose lives have been upended, the tactics used by mining companies to overcome local opposition, and the frustrations of concerned citizens who try to confront corporate power within local democratic decision-making bodies. I think other stories could be told about this issue, especially stories about the experiences of people who work in the industry and benefit from mining. Their voices and perspectives do appear in the book, but they are not a central focus.


I would like to add some backstory to this article’s appearance in CAFE. The article originated with a 2012 AAA panel organized by Anna Willow and chaired by Jeanne Simonelli, who along with Stephane Paladino encouraged panelists to submit papers to CAFE to be published as editor-reviewed research reports: short pieces that comment on ongoing research and current issues. The idea was to get anthropological analysis, backed by the status of an academic journal, out into the public domain in a timely fashion. I wrote this article with a general audience in mind and sought to minimize the theory sloganeering and nonsensical scholarly dribble that spoils so much of academic anthropology today. According to various metrics, this article is the most impactful academic piece I’ve ever written, circulating widely in western Wisconsin. Despite also being freely available on other websites, it has garnered nearly 2,000 views on, largely from non-academics. (By contrast, an article I published in American Anthropologist in 2013 on my Costa Rica research has achieved a measly 46 views.) That’s not to say academics have ignored my work. According to Google Scholar, it is also my most cited piece, and AnthroSource indicates it is the most cited article in CAFE over the past five years.


Thomas Pearson’s website is Contested Landscapes

Margaret’s Mead – a zine by Culture & Agriculture & friends

Check out our new zine!  Inspired by ethnographic work on mead circle gatherings in Southern Appalachia, the contributing artists and authors explore the intersection of fermentation practices, landscape engagement and political activism.

Feel free to print, photocopy or e-mail it widely and excessively!

Download Links

For electronic viewing

For printing – with pages re-ordered to print as a booklet – make sure to use “duplex” (printing on both front and back) printer settings, with two pages on each side (four pages total on each sheet of paper)

For more information, check out the mead zine page.

Read the latest issue for free!

Following up on the release of our latest issue of the CAFE journal, Culture & Agriculture is happy to announce that it will be available free to all for the next 2-3 months.

Tell your friends!

We are thrilled to share with you the newest issue of Culture, Agriculture, Food, & Environment (CAFE) (vol. 39, no. 1).
This issue features five original research articles, two research reports, and two book reviews:

Actor Networks, Celebrity Farmers, Identity Performance, and Super Star Crops
// Brandi Janssen and Stephanie Paladino

Anthropologists are well aware of the blurred boundaries between what is local and global and the complex ways that identity, performance, knowledge, and practice intersect to inform both angles of view. These relationships are particularly evident in networks and systems of agriculture and food production. This issue of CAFE considers how locals respond to, are affected by, and empower themselves in relation to global markets and international development initiatives through their identities, relationships with the plants they cultivate, and the realities of climate change, labor needs, and social and economic inequality.

The Journey of an Ancestral Seed: The Case of the Lupino Paisano Food Network in Cotopaxi, Ecuador
//Alexandra Martínez‐Flores, Guido Ruivenkamp and Joost Jongerden

Race, Status, and Biodiversity: The Social Climbing of Quinoa
// Deborah Andrews

“Show Farmers”: Transformation and Performance in Telangana, India
// Andrew Flachs

Losing Labor: Coffee, Migration, and Economic Change in Veracruz, Mexico
// David Griffith, Patricia Zamudio Grave, Rosalba Cortés Viveros, Jerónimo Cabrera Cabrera

The Fate of an Old Water System in the New Era of Climate Change and Market Imperatives in Southwest China
// Ann Maxwell Hill and Kelin Zhuang

Research Reports
A Typology for Investigating the Effects of Sturgeon Aquaculture on Conservation Goals
// Richard Apostle

The Story of Tapyo: The Alkaline Salt Substitute of the Apatanis of Arunachal Pradesh, India
// Rashmirekha Sarma

Book Reviews
Aesop’s Anthropology: A Multispecies Approach
// Reviewed by Deborah Andrews

Cultural Heritage and the Challenge of Sustainability
// Reviewed by Murray J. Leaf

Weekly Gleaning 6/2: Rational Agriculture

Our weekly gleanings present the latest happenings, research and writing along the tangled banks of culture and agriculture.

In 1998 Alfred Gell gave his opinion on what anthropology does best:

Anthropology is, to put it bluntly, considered good at provided close-grained analysis of apparently irrational behavior, performances, utterances, etc

Some have questioned farmer support for Donald Trump as such “apparently irrational” behavior, particularly in light of proposed budget cuts to the USDA, potential loss of agricultural labor and antagonism towards climate change measures. There is a certain smugness here, that these irrational people are getting what they deserve for making such an obviously wrong decision, against their own self-interest. Perhaps we need more close-grained analysis from anthropologists doing what they “do best”.

Since almost all behavior is, from somebody’s point of view, ‘apparently irrational’ anthropology has, possibly, a secure future

Secretary of Ag Sonny Perdue defends the re-organization (read: demotion?) of rural development within the USDA and the budget proposal

The National Sustainable Agriculture weighs in on the budget and withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement

A new documentary film from FarmAid unravels the 80s farm crisis

Remembering Sydney Mintz

Cacao ceremonies in San Francisco

Exploring the Plantationocene in Malaysia and Indonesia

Weekly Gleaning 3/23: the worm moon

Our weekly gleanings present the latest happenings, research and writing along the tangled banks of culture and agriculture. This week: El Sur Latino, rich farmers and mental health.

It’s typical of a cultural solar bias that all the attention goes to spring equinox and very little to the worm moon – March’s full moon – so called because the soil is beginning to be workable by worm and human alike. Following the frost heaves of a politically (and existentially) disruptive winter, a new growing season invites us to get our hands back in the earth. In some ways this invites novel practices of academics, activists and food producers alike – check out the anthropology read-in group and Carole McGranahan on going rogue. In other ways it’s familiar terrain: farmers struggling with mental health and retirement; health of migrant farm labor (also in Sicily); unrest over environmental regulations. Here in Utah the cherries are blossoming.

The earthworms awakened under the worm moon generate bioturbation – productive disruptions. What productive disruptions are in store this season? If we need some optimism about what the spring might bring, perhaps there’s no better place to look than New Zealand, where Te Awa Tupua (the Whanganui River) has been declared a legal person.

// in other news //

The United States joins International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources, after a 14 year ratification process

A list of the world’s richest farmers

Southern Foodways Alliance series on El Sur Latino

The National Academies publish a response to an analysis that found conflicts of interest in the Acadamies’ Committee on Genetically Engineered Crops

Call For Papers/Workshops – Initiatives in Critical Agrarian Studies

International Colloquium: The future of food and challenges for agriculture in the 21st century


When: 24-26, 2017
Where: Vitoria-Gasteiz, Basque Country
Who: La Via Campesina, Transnational Institute, International Institute for Social Studies, EHNE Bizkaia (Basque farmers union), Etxalde (Basque food sovereignty movement)

Find more information here
Submissions to [email protected]

Thematic Axes

1 Capitalism, class, agriculture, livestock and fisheries.
2 Climate Change and convergences.
3 Models of development in the context of flows of capital, goods and people.
4 Access and control over the means of production.
5 Consumption, health, nutrition and the Right to Food.
6 Movements for Food Sovereignty.


New CAFE Issue! – Entanglements of Reciprocal Relations


We’re happy to announce the latest issue of our journal Culture, Agriculture, Food and Environment. Inspired by the recent scholarship of Anna Tsing and others, we’re approaching agriculture as a bundle of relationships, exploring how these entanglements have developed through history and continue to shape current practices of food production.

Volume 38, Issue 2: Entanglements of Reciprocal Relations

Entanglements of Reciprocal Relations
// Stephanie Paladino and Brandi Janssen

From “Genetic Resources” to “Ecosystems Services”: A Century of Science and Global Policies for Crop Diversity Conservation
//Marianna Fenzi and Christophe Bonneuil

How Religion, Race, and the Weedy Agency of Plants Shape Amazonian Home Gardens
// Nicholas C. Kawa

A Semi-Autonomous Mexican Peasant Community and Globalization: The Role of the Cacique (Broker) in Maintaining Traditional Agroecology
// Jean Gilruth-Rivera

Borders Out of Register: Edge Effects in the U.S.–Mexico Foodshed
// Laurel Bellante and Gary Paul Nabhan

Shrimp Aquaculture, Social Capital, and Food Security in Rural Vietnam
// Jessie K. Fly

Research Report
Bringing Farmer Knowledge and Learning into Agricultural Research: How Agricultural Anthropologists Transformed Strategic Research at the International Rice Research Institute
// Lisa Leimar Price and Florencia G. Palis

Book Review
The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins (Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing)
// Reviewed by James P. Verinis

I’m Alarmed at How TIAA Is Investing My Retirement Funds

A cross-post from Doug Hertzler, Culture & Agriculture member and senior policy analyst at ActionAid. See the original post here.

Photo Credit: Doug Hertzler/ActionAid

Photo Credit: Doug Hertzler/ActionAid

As a person whose work-life as a teacher and as a public policy analyst has been grounded in anthropology, I am very alarmed at the way in which my retirement funds are being used by the investment firm TIAA (formerly Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association—College Retirement Equities Fund) to undermine rural communities in the United States and many other countries through land speculation and land-grabbing.

I grew up on a farm in rural Pennsylvania where my immediate and extended family farms a wide range of crops including corn, soybeans, vegetables, hay, as well as dairy cattle and other livestock. Unfortunately policies that encouraged larger-scale farming, characterized by mono-cropping and price volatility, have all but destroyed small towns and rural communities across the United States.

Today, a much smaller number of farmers survive in a risky business of specialized farming that often requires leasing larger and larger amounts of land from other farmers who have retired.

Farmers used to be an important economic base that supported communities and local business, but the dwindling number of farm families, coupled with the loss of manufacturing jobs, has torn apart the social fabric of rural communities, towns, and smaller cities across the United States. Over the past year of the U.S. election campaign, we have seen the alienation, anger, and fears that have arisen in these distressed communities.

TIAA holds the retirement money of several million individuals working for several thousand organizations, primarily professors and non-profit workers. In recent years, TIAA has begun buying up farmland as an investment strategy. So far, the company has focused on the United States, Brazil, and Australia.

This strategy means there will be fewer farmers and more farms will be operated by “farm management companies” that lease the land from the investor owner. TIAA is not the only investor buying up farmland, but it is particularly important because of its size, and because it claims to be a responsible investor on behalf of its clients. Yet in Brazil, research has shown that TIAA bought farmland illegally from intermediaries who had grabbed it away from communities.

Anthropologists are interested in how both long term processes and everyday actions affect human life. As an anthropologist who works for a non-profit that brings people together in solidarity to fight for human rights and human dignity, I am interested in seeing anthropological knowledge make an immediate contribution to the struggle for the rights and dignity of rural communities.

A prominent anthropologist was one of the first to document the social and environmental impacts of this type of large-scale leasing of farmland in California way back in 1947. In his book “As You Sow” Walter Goldschmidt, who later became President of the American Anthropological Association, noted:

“The economics of this type of production do not motivate the operator to maintain soil fertility; to consider the welfare of the local community in which his leased lands, nor to have any concern over the long-term welfare of his labor.”

All is not lost in farming communities in the United States. Family farms still exist. In some places like my home areas of Pennsylvania, the number of small farms may actually be increasing thanks in part to religious communities, such as the Amish and Old Order Mennonites. But also many other young farmers are figuring out creative ways to supply markets in nearby towns and cities.

With the right set of policies to support small farms, rural communities could be strengthened and made more prosperous, but this can only happen if large-scale speculation in farmland for investment is stopped and farmland remains available for young people and new farmers.

Fellow anthropologists and fellow TIAA clients, we have an obligation to speak out and demand that TIAA change its practices in land investment and other agricultural investment policies which harm communities or cause deforestation and climate impacts. Please sign this letter to the CEO of TIAA demanding transparency and changes to investment practices.

Once you have signed, please share this letter with TIAA members and faculty colleagues from any academic discipline. Together we can change how our money is invested and give farming communities everywhere a chance to survive and thrive!

Page 1 of 22

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén