Department of International Relations and Governance Studies Organizing Seminar on 'The Knowledge Politics of Agri-food Systems in Asia’

The Department of International Relations and Governance Studies, Shiv Nadar University, Delhi-NCR invites you to a session titled 'The Knowledge Politics of Agri-food Systems in Asia’ by Prof. Francesca Bray, University of Edinburgh, on Thursday, 31 March 2022, 6.30 pm - 8.00 pm. This lecture is the second in a four-part lecture series on The Knowledge Politics of Agri-food Systems in Asia organised by the IRGS department and curated by Dr Rajeswari Raina, Professor, Department of International Relations and Governance Studies, Shiv Nadar University, Delhi-NCR. Dr Meera Visvanathan, Department of History, Shiv Nadar will be a discussant for the session.

My talk compares the role and moral values attributed to rice as a national staple, generator of national wealth and solidarity, and definer of national identity in two prosperous modern countries, Japan and Malaysia. Both nations have long outgrown their agrarian roots, and both can well afford to purchase staple cereals on international markets. Yet both nations have chosen, in the teeth of free-trade opposition, to invest vast sums of money in subsidizing their dwindling populations of small rice farmers in order to achieve self-sufficiency in rice. Why? I argue that the value of rice in Asian nations like Japan and Malaysia, where a country and its citizens understand themselves as being constituted socially, physically, spiritually, or morally by their staple food (“rice as self”), cannot be reduced to dollars and cents, or even to full or empty supermarket shelves. Whether or not it is efficient purely as a system of production, the value attached to small-holder rice-farming in Japan and Malaysia reflects both its key role in the recent past, helping both nations to build wealthy modern economies, and its efficacy today as a producer of the common staple that nourishes social solidarity, not simply feeding the nation materially but maintaining it in good moral health.

Francesca Bray is a historian of science, technology and medicine in East Asia, specialising in gender and technology, the politics of historiography, and the history of agriculture and food. Early publications include Science and Civilisation in China, VI.2, Agriculture (1984) and The Rice Economies (1986). Recent books include Technology, Gender and History in Imperial China (2013); and Rice: Global Networks and New Histories (2015). Her latest, co-authored, book Moving Crops and the Scales of History (Yale, due Fall 2022) experiments with new narratives of the global circulation of knowledge, ideas and artefacts. Bray is Emerita Professor of Social Anthropology at the University of Edinburgh, and served as president of SHOT (the Society for the History of Technology) from 2013 to 2018.

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