Cultural Geography Workgroup

Food Sovereignty in Bolivia (finished 2016)


Topologies of justice: A political geography of the right to food sovereignty in Bolivia

In the last years, the topic of food has increasingly received attention throughout society as well as in the discipline of human geography. Both in the global north and south, there is a raising awareness that food is “more than” or “different from” other commodities: It is inextricably bound to political questions of justice. In 1996, a global network of small-scale farmers, La Vía Campesina, declared the right to food sovereignty as a political countermovement to dominant neoliberal food and agricultural policies. This claim does not only refer to the right to food but rather emphasizes the right to decide independently over the production, consumption, and distribution of food and to liberate smallholders from external powers and “rules” of the market.

On the one hand, this universal claim follows the logic of a human right and bears the potential to be transferred to different geographical and socio-historical contexts. On the other hand, it reveals various open questions: Who should be “the sovereign”? On which geographical scale should this new right be implemented? And what exactly are the normative guidelines for a food sovereign society? Until now, the lack of satisfying answers to these questions is evident. This is not surprising, since food sovereignty cannot be understood as a political model; it rather entails the maxim of self-determination, which inevitably challenges spatially fixed constellations of power.

Facing these obscurities and the potential for conflict, this dissertation focuses, firstly, on the question of how a new and emerging right can be conceptualized from a political geography perspective. For this purpose, theories from political theory, social theory, human geography but also from rural sociology – whose representatives currently provide the most suitable approaches on this topic – will be discussed. The aim is to develop a comprehensive conceptual frame to analyze food sovereignty as well as other rights- and space-based claims for self-determination in their empirical contexts.

Secondly, this framework is put to the test in a study of the right to food sovereignty in Bolivia: In 2009, the Bolivian government and civil society organizations declared the political objective to establish a food sovereign and post-neoliberal society and to end heteronomy. Apart from analyzing government policies, the objective of the empirical research – which was conducted in 2013 and 2015 – is to focus on those social practices of small-scale farmers that constitute the claim for food sovereignty. The research questions are: To what extent do these practices reveal the character of political practices, understood as a longing for self-rule and self-determination? And in what way do these practices use, produce, give meaning to, and challenge spatiality and spatial constellations like geographical scales?


Cover Fladvad (2017): Topologies of justice.
Fladvad, Benno: Topologies of justice: A political geography of the right to food sovereignty in Bolivia, 2017, 288 p., 5 tab. and 27 fig. 16,50 €.
ISBN 978-3-923887-72-9

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