chapter  21
AGRICULTURAL STUDIES
BySUSAN M. SQUIER
Pages 11

Thirty years ago, Raymond Williams set forth in this brief paragraph what we might view as the agenda for agricultural studies (Williams 1973). Yet despite its debt to his pioneering Culture and Society (Williams 1958), which laid the groundwork of cultural studies, in the years to come, the field of cultural studies showed little appreciation of the agricultural issues Williams evoked so memorably. Instead, from its origins in the work of Raymond Williams and Richard Hoggart, the field of cultural studies grew to emphasize engaged analysis, a focus on subjectivity, attention to the relations between culture and individual lives, and a commitment to the investigation of the impact of the political and technological centralization of first-world power in the great cities of the global North (Williams 1958; Hoggart 1958; During 1993). This emphasis is clearly evident in The Cultural Studies Reader, a well-known volume that covers nationalism, postcolonialism, and globalization; ethnicity and multiculturalism; science and cyberculture; sexuality and gender; carnival and utopia; consumption and the market; leisure; and culture (During 1993: 2, 1). Notably absent is any reference to the act of cultivating plants or animals for food, despite the fact that culture, derived from the Latin word cultura, was used as far back as 1420 to mean “the cultivation of a plant or crop” (OED). Agriculture has a broad reach, from Stone Age ploughs to the pastoral,

and discussions of rural and agrarian life have long been part of literary history and criticism (see Alpers 1997; Conlogue 2001: 6). Certain works loom

particularly large in our understanding of how the pastoral motif of a blessed retreat from the pressures of an urban world, “a green thought in a green shade,” has structured English and American literature (Marvell 1938). While D.H. Lawrence describes the flight to the country as a classically American escape from European cultural dominance, in their 1930 introductory essay to the classic manifesto I’ll Take My Stand, the “Twelve Southerners,” known as the “Agrarians,” affirm that they all “tend to support a Southern way of life against what may be called the American or prevailing way; and all … agree that the best terms in which to represent the distinction are contained in the phrase, Agrarian versus Industrial” (Twelve Southerners 1930). Henry Nash Smith explores the myth of the garden as a foundational belief in American culture and politics, Leslie Fiedler argues that American men choose the wilderness because they associate it with masculine freedom from the civilizing domesticities of a feminized town life, and both Leo Marx and Annette Kolodny associate the rural with the feminine, whether that link invites consolation and embrace or leads to violence and exploitation (Lawrence 1923; Smith 1950; Fiedler 1960; Conlogue 2001: 6; Marx 1964; Kolodny 1975). In contrast to such literary and historical explorations of the pastoral, agri-

cultural studies focuses on the post-pastoral. I borrow this term from Terry Gifford, who frames its defining vision as awe at the natural world; recognition of “a creative-destructive universe”; realization that inner and outer nature must be understood in relation to each other; “awareness of both nature as culture and culture as nature”; acknowledgment that “with consciousness comes conscience”; and the ecofeminist understanding that exploitation of women and minorities emerges from the same state of mind as environmental exploitation (Gifford 2000). We can clarify the concept of the post-pastoral by considering the contemporary response to that 1930 text, I’ll Take My Stand. Recent scholars have located populism, anti-industrialism, cultural conservatism, and whiteness in that volume’s celebration of rural heritage (Donaldson 2006: ix). For example, Tanya Ann Kennedy argues that the volume formulates a gendered relation between private and public worlds that leads to a suppression of women writers even within a reclaimed regional identity. Kennedy charges the Agrarians with inconsistency and gender bias, because despite their attention to the “displacements and alienations engendered by imperialist, industrial, and urban impositions upon a primarily agricultural people,” she argues, they fail to take into account the differences between male and female agricultural work. Instead, their defense of the Agrarian way of life “subsumes all white female members under the rubric of the household economy,” shoving women to the margin “as an agent of the consumerism and sexuality associated with northern urbanism” (Kennedy 2005: 45). We can sharpen our understanding of “post-pastoral” as a term by associating

it with a paradigm shift within agriculture, during which the general concept of farming changed from a way of life to a business, subject to the same strategies

of rationalization, management practices, and control technologies as other industrialized businesses. Of course, such a broad claim omits the various niches within industrial farming where small, marginal, and recreational farmers have continued to exist alongside the rationalized and large-scale agricultural holdings on the High Plains at the turn of the twentieth century. It also relies on a restrictive and futuristic view of technology. Even the Bonanza wheat farms and the vast cattle ranches were forged by such low-technology tools as the muledrawn plough and the barbed-wire fence (Hinrichs 2009). Yet depending on the types of agricultural practices they investigate, which will lead scholars to date the emergence of post-paradigm agriculture earlier or later, a major reference point is arguably England between 1649 and 1650, when a group of agrarian reformers known as the Diggers launched a “rural, radical and short-lived response to the enclosure laws and the widespread poverty and starvation” they had produced (Lyon 1999: 17). The Diggers’ argument that poor people were a distinct group with a shared

interest in access to the common lands, recently fenced in by the Enclosure Acts for the landowning ruling classes, was legitimated by religious understanding. They drew on the thinking of reformers Robert Coster and Gerard Winstanley that the earth was a “common treasury” bestowed by God for all men and women to use. While the Digger uprising was quickly crushed by the landowning classes, their communities shattered, houses burned, and property destroyed, the rhetorical innovation they displayed remains. “Digger texts (and specifically Winstanley’s writings) principally aimed to ‘win over a rural proletariat (and other sympathetic groups) to a program of mass political action’” (Lyon 1999: 19, citing Holstun). They called, in songs and poems, “Stand up now, Diggers all,” and the group whose solidarity they invoked was both called into being and given a cause. And so was launched a new literary genre, the manifesto. As a literary genre, the manifesto embodies the troubled connections between modernity and agriculture, between the ability to work one’s own land and the status of citizen. A central theme of the manifesto is the protest that “We” (its empowered and oppressed collectivity) have not shared the fruits of modernity’s technological and political innovations. Yet the manifesto’s call for access to technological progress clashes with its origins in an agrarian protest, as the Digger movement waged a bitter and ultimately doomed fight against a new technology of land management: the fencing in, or enclosure, of common lands. “Historically,” Janet Lyon reminds us, “manifestoes … appear most often in

clusters around those crises that involve definitions of citizenship and political subjecthood” (Lyon 1999: 16). The very form of the manifesto performs the creation of a community, a “we” articulating its claim to the fruits of progress produced by contemporary science and medicine. Yet this new community also marked the end of an old subject position: the subsistence farmer who worked lands held in common. Rosemarie Garland Thomson has introduced the term

normate to designate “the social figure through which people can represent themselves as definitive human beings. Normate … is the constructed identity of those who, by way of the bodily configurations and cultural capitalism they assume, can step into a position of authority and wield the power it grants them” (Thomson 1997: 8). The initial act of agricultural dispossession not only led to the manifesto, but also shaped the political subject: the functional, normate body of the citizen. We can see this notion of the citizen taking shape in Locke’s Two Treatises of

Government, where Locke makes a distinctly agricultural case for the ownership of property:

As much Land as a Man Tills, Plants, Improves, Cultivates, and can use the Product of, so much is his Property. He by his Labor does, as it were, inclose it from the Common. … He that in Obedience to this Command of God, subdued, tilled and sowed any part of it, thereby annexed to it something that was his Property, which another had no Title to, nor could without injury take from him.