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Cultural Politics of Seeds

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  • Conference
When May 17, 2013
from 08:00 AM to 05:00 PM
Where Charles E Young Library, Conference Room
Contact Name
Contact Phone 310 825 0590
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Cultural Politics of Seeds

Cultural Politics of Seeds

On May 17, 2013, CSW will host “Cultural Politics of Seeds,” a symposium organized by Allison Carruth, Assistant Professor in the Department of English at UCLA, and Rachel Lee, Associate Professor in the Departments of English and Gender Studies at UCLA. The symposium is part of the multi-year “Life (Un)Ltd” research project, which is addressing the question of what impact recent developments in the biosciences and biotechnology have had on feminist studies. In this year, the group is exploring the rich connections between food, ecology, propagation, and metabolism. 

The "Cultural Politics of Seeds" symposium will look at how gender, ethnicity, and race have shaped contemporary cultural and political movements related to seeds. How has global climate in relation to economic and cultural crises affected food systems and place-based heirloom seeds? What sociological, ethnographic, and humanistic methodological tools have we integrated into the study of food culture and food politics and to what ends? To what extent has research by corporations and engineers redefined the ecology of seeds and how have political and artistic forms of resistance intervened? 


DATE: Friday, May 17
TIME: 8:30 am to 5 pm
PLACE: Charles E. Young Research Library, Conference Room
COSPONSORS: University of California Humanities Research Initiative, Institute for Society and Genetics, Division of Life Sciences, Division of Humanities, Division of Social Sciences, Institute of American Cultures, Department of English, Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, School of Law, Chicano Studies Research Center, and Charles E. Young Research Library


8 to 8:30 am   Continental breakfast

8:45 to 9 am  Welcome by Allison Carruth

9 to 10:30 am   Session One: featuring Akhil Gupta, Rebecca Tsosie, and Elaine Gan. Discussant/Chair: Rachel Lee

10:45 am to 12:15 pm  Session Two:  David Cleveland, Allison Carruth, and  Anne-Lise François. Discussant/Chair: Jessica Lynch

12:15 to 1:30 pm Lunch Break

1:30t o 3 pm  Session Three: Daniela Soleri, Lucilia Martinez, Tezozomoc, Lindsay Naylor. Discussant/Chair: Anne McKnight

3:15 to 4:45 pm Plenary Session: Stephen Jones and Matias Viegener; Chair: Ann Hirsch, Discussant: David King

4:45 to 5 pm Closing remarks

5:00 to 6:30 pm  Reception (Rolfe Courtyard)


Session 1: Seed Genetics & Seed Sovereignty

Akhil GuptaFarmer Suicides: Seeds of Discontent?

Akhil Gupta is Professor of Anthropology and Director of the Center for India and South Asia (CISA) at UCLA. He obtained his undergraduate degree in Mechanical Engineering from Western Michigan University, his Master's in Mechanical Engineering from MIT, and his Ph.D. in Engineering-Economic Systems at Stanford University. He has taught at the University of Washington, Seattle (1987-89), and at Stanford University (1989-2006) before coming to UCLA. He is the author of Postcolonial Developments: Agriculture in the Making of Modern India  (Duke Univ. Press, 1998), and editor of  Culture, Power, Place (with James Ferguson; Duke Univ. Press, 1997), Anthropological Locations (with James Ferguson; Univ. of California Press, 1997),  Caste and Outcast  (Stanford Univ. Press, 2002), The Anthropology of the State (with Aradhana Sharma; Blackwell, 2006), and The State in India After Liberalization  (with K. Sivaramakrishnan; Routledge, 2010). His most recent book, Red Tape: Bureaucracy, Structural Violence, and Poverty in India (2012) has been published by Duke University Press. Professor Gupta is currently doing a long-term field project on call centers in Bangalore. His areas of interest are: ethnography of information technology, the state and development, anthropology of food, environmental anthropology, animality, space and place, history of anthropology, applied anthropology; India and South Asia.

Rebecca TsosieIndigenous Peoples and First Foods: The Cultural Landscape of Food Sustainability in an Age of Bioengineering

Rebecca Tsosie is a Regent’s Professor at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University and a member of the Faculty of Philosophy in the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies.  She is also a faculty affiliate for the American Indian Studies Program.  Professor Tsosie, who is of Yaqui descent, joined the ASU College of Law faculty in 1994 and served as the Executive Director of the law school’s Indian Legal Program from 1996-2011.  She teaches in the areas of Federal Indian law, Constitutional law, Property, Cultural Resources law, Bioethics and Critical Race Theory.  Professor Tsosie has written and published widely on doctrinal and theoretical issues related to tribal sovereignty, environmental policy, and cultural rights.  She has worked extensively with tribal governments and organizations, and serves as an appellate judge for the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation’s Supreme Court and the San Carlos Apache Tribe’s Court of Appeals.  Professor Tsosie received her B.A. and J.D. degrees from the University of California, Los Angeles, and is admitted to practice in Arizona and California.

Elaine GanConsidering Rice: Mapping Differential Temporalities

Elaine Gan is an artist. A recent project aimed to unpack collisions-synchronies between biocultural entanglements and political economies by considering multiple temporalities that emerge from and enact historically constituted and contingent cycles of cultivation and exchange for different varieties of rice. Her projects have received fellowships, grants, and generous support from the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, New York Foundation for the Arts, Jerome Foundation, and New York Department of Cultural Affairs. She was a research associate and Science & Justice fellow at UC Santa Cruz in 2011-12. She studied critical art practice at the Whitney Museum Independent Study Program (NY), earned an MFA in Digital Arts/New Media at UC Santa Cruz and a BA in Architecture at Wellesley College (MA). Her projects have been supported by the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, New York Foundation for the Arts, Jerome Foundation, and NY Department of Cultural Affairs. Her DANM thesis project, "Rice Child (Stirrings)" received the UCSC Chancellor's Award at the Graduate Research Symposium in 2011.

Chair/Discussant: Rachel C. Lee

Rachel C. Lee is Interim Director of the Center for the Study of Women and Associate Professor of English and Gender Studies at UCLA.  She is Principal Investigator of the Research Project, Life (Un)Ltd (see Life (Un)Ltd), and member of the University of California Humanities Research Institute’s working group on Feminism and Technology which explores info- and bio-technology in relation to feminist pedagogy. She is the editor of a special issue of the online journal, The Scholar and the Feminist, on “Race, Feminism, Biotech, and Biopolitics” (forthcoming Fall 2013) as well as a print anthology, A Companion to Asian American and Pacific Islander Literature and Culture (Routledge UP, forthcoming 2014).  She is also the author of The Americas of Asian American Literature: Gendered Fictions of Nation and Transnation (Princeton University Press, 1999) and co-editor of the volume Asian America.Net: Ethnicity, Nationalism, and Cyberspace (Routledge University Press, 2003). 

Session 2: Local Knowledge & Global Food Networks

David ClevelandWhat Farmers Know: Local Seeds and Knowledge in a Globalized World

David Cleveland is a human ecologist who has done research and development project work on sustainable agriculture with small-scale farmers around the world, including in Bawku (Ghana), Oaxaca (Mexico), Zuni and Hopi (southwest USA), North-West Frontier Province (Pakistan) and Santa Barbara County (California, USA). He earned an M.S. in genetics and a Ph.D. (1980) in ecological anthropology from the University of Arizona, and is a professor in the Environmental Studies Program, University of California, Santa Barbara. Cleveland’s research and teaching focus on the relationships between small-scale local agrifood systems and environmental benefits, conservation and enhancement of crop genetic diversity, and food sovereignty. He is currently researching the potential for agrifood system localization to improve nutrition, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and strengthen communities in Santa Barbara County, California and the US; and on the genetic, ecological and sociocultural impact of genetically engineered crop varieties globally.

Allison CarruthSeed Banks & Seed Networks: Narratives, Images, Infrastructure

Allison Carruth is co-organizer of The Cultural Politics of Seeds. She an Assistant Professor in the Department of English at UCLA, where she is also an affiliated faculty member in the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability and the Center for the Study of Women. Her fields of research and teaching include post-1945 American literature, contemporary fiction and new media, food studies, science and technology studies, globalization theory, and the environmental humanities. Her first book is entitled Global Appetites: American Power and the Literature of Food (Cambridge University Press, 2013). Her second book project (“The Transgenic Age”) examines how biotechnology has shaped and has been shaped by contemporary environmental discourse, as evident in speculative fiction, bioart, green architecture, and food activism. She is also co-authoring a book entitled “Literature and Food Studies” with Amy L. Tigner (under contract with Routledge in the Contemporary Literature and Thought series). Professor Carruth is co-editor of the project Prototyping Futures/Occupying the Present and Book Review Editor for Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture. Recent publications include essays in Modern Drama, Modern Fiction Studies, Modernism/Modernity, and Postmodern Culture and in book collections from Oxford UP and Routledge. She has forthcoming essays in the journals Parallax and Public Culture.

Anne-Lise François“The Loves of the Plants”: Rereading Romantic Botany in an Age of Honey-Bee Colony Collapse

Anne-Lise François is Associate Professor of English and Comparative Literature at UC-Berkeley. Her first book–Open Secrets: The Literature of Uncounted Experience (Stanford University Press, 2008)–was awarded the 2010 René Wellek Prize by the American Comparative Literature Association.

A study of the ethos of affirmative reticence and recessive action found in the fiction of Mme de Lafayette and Jane Austen, and the poetry of William Wordsworth, Emily Dickinson and Thomas Hardy, Open Secrets argues that these works offer a critique of Enlightenment models of heroic action, productive activity and energetic accumulation, by declining demands to make time productive and remaining content with non-actualized powers. Her current book project,Provident Improvisers: Parables of Subsistence from Rousseau to Berger, sharpens the critique of Enlightenment models of heroic action, productive activity and energetic accumulation that she began articulating in Open Secrets, by testing its relevance to contemporary environmental crises, from the assault on food sovereignty and green desertification to the oceans’ growing dead zones, from global climate change to honeybee die-off. A book about gleaning that also takes gleaning for its own critical method, Provident Improvisers asks about the role of figures of pastoral worldliness, provisionality, and commonness (with “common” understood in the double sense of the political antithesis to enclosure and of the ordinary, vernacular, or profane)—in addressing these contemporary crises.

Chair/Discussant: Jessica Lynch Alfaro, Institute for Society and Genetics at UCLA

Jessica Lynch Alfaro is the Associate Director of the UCLA Institute for Society and Genetics and coeditor of the journal Neotropical Primates, a publication of Conservation International. She is a biological anthropologist whose research centers on the evolution of diversity in socially learned behaviors, mating strategies, and social structuring in neotropical primates. Her research into the biological and cultural evolution in neotropical primates has provided valuable contributions to primate biogeography and carries broad implications for primate conservation biology and the evolution of neotropical mammals in general.

Session 3: Sowing Mesoamerica: Maize, Migration, Resistance

Daniela Soleri and Lucilia Martínez, Maize and Migration, One Family's Story 

Daniela Soleri an ethnoecologist working collaboratively with scientists and practitioners in small-scale, local food systems to understand the implications of knowledge and practice for those systems, including crop and food diversity, risk assessment and response to a changing climate. Identifying key biological and sociocultural processes supports collaborative improvement for more resilient food systems. Her work has investigated similarities and differences between scientists’ and farmers’ knowledge and the basis for collaborative plant breeding (Mexico, Syria, Nepal, Mali, Cuba, Guatemala); quantification of indigenous maize farmers’ selection practices and goals (Mexico); farmers’ attitudes toward new genetic technologies (Mexico, Cuba, Guatemala) and their intellectual property in their traditional crop varieties (Zuni, USA); the influence of socioeconomic networks on the distribution of introduced crop germplasm (olive in CA); changes in repertoires of traditional crop varieties (Hopi, USA); biological and genetic structure and implications of farmer management for crop species in centers of diversity today and with a changing climate (beans and maize, Mexico; rice, China); relationship between traditional foods and crop diversity (Mexico); and archaeological and nutritional significance of traditional food (Mexico).

Lucilia Martínez is a Zapotec farmer from the Central Valley of Oaxaca, in the state of Oaxaca, in southern Mexico. When her husband started migrating to California in the early 1970s in search of work and resources for their family, Martínez assumed primary responsibility for farming and raising eight children. With support from her husband’s remittances and through a combination of intellect, hard work and an indomitable spirit, Lucilia managed the physical and biological resources available to her to successfully feed and care for her family. Today she is an accomplished and respected farmer and member of her traditional Zapotec community where, among other things, the quality and diversity of her maize varieties have made her a sought-after source for seeds.

TezozomocXinachtli: Myth and Life in the  Meso-American Diaspora

Tezozomoc is the Vice-President of the South Central Farmers Health and Education Fund, a CA 501c3 non-profit organization that assists in the development and education of organic farmers in Central/Southern California. He is also a the manager of the South Central Farmers Cooperative, LLC, which operates as a worker-owned cooperative farming 85 acres in Buttonwillow, California. South Central Farmers has its roots in the South Central Farm in the South Central neighborhood of Los Angeles, which was once—at 14 acres—one of the largest community farms. After losing its site, a core group of South Central Farmers moved to Buttonwillow to create the worker co-operative on 125 acres of leased land. He has also worked to organize a network of organic farming cooperatives throughout Southern California and has provided trainings to other groups forming cooperatives, including Huerto de la Familia in Eugene, Oregon.

Lindsay NaylorSowing the Seeds of Resistance: Maiz Criollo in Highland Chiapas

Lindsay Naylor is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Geography at the University of Oregon. In her research, Lindsay uses agriculture and food production as a lens to examine power relations and spaces of resistance. Her dissertation work is focused on the everyday lived experience of autonomy and food sovereignty in subsistence and fair trade coffee producing communities in Chiapas, Mexico. Recent publications include “Hired Gardens and the question of transgression: lawns, food gardens and the business of ‘alternative’ food practice” and a conference presentation on “Constructing Autonomy through the Colonial Difference: Zapatista-aligned communities and the articulation of food sovereignty” at the 2011 Race, Space, Nature Symposium at UC Berkeley.

Chair/Discussant: Anne McKnight, UCLA

Anne McKnight is a visiting lecturer in the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures at UCLA. She teaches Japanese literature, film, and food systems. In conjunction with her formal academic work, she is engaged with many experiential learning projects. She has a background in public art, has run a community garden where she taught classes on food systems, globalization and Japanese food history, and she is a Master Gardener, certified by the University of California.

Plenary Session: Unruly Seeds & Heritage Foods

Matias Viegener, Feral, Wild, Domestic and Social

Matias Viegener is an artist/writer who teaches at CalArts and is a co-founder of Fallen Fruit, is an art collaboration of David Burns, Matias Viegener, and Austin Young. Fallen Fruit uses fruit as a common denominator to change the way you see the world. Using photography, video, performance, and installation, Fallen Fruit’s work focuses on urban space, neighborhood, located citizenship and community in relation to fruit.

Stephen S. Jones, Kicking the Commodity Habit: The Value of Being Grown Out of Place

Stephen S. Jones is a Professor and the Director of Washington State University’s Research and Extension Center in Mount Vernon (an hour north of Seattle).  He has been breeding wheat since 1991 and farmer participation and expertise is utilized and encouraged in research planning and decision making. Together with his graduate students he develops wheat for organic and small farms that are under served by traditional research programs. He teaches graduate courses in advanced classical genetics and in the history and ethics of genetics. His research has been featured in Smithsonian Magazine, Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Gourmet Magazine, Sunset Magazine, and on the PBS show “Eyes of Nye” (with Bill Nye the Science Guy).

Chair: Ann Hirsch

Ann Hirsch is a Professor in the Department of Molecular, Cell, and Developmental Biology at UCLA. She studies the interaction between nitrogen-fixing bacteria (alpha-rhizobia) and legumes such as alfalfa, pea, and soybean in order to determine why this interaction occurs exclusively with certain plants.

Discussant: David King, Seed Library of Los Angeles

David King is the founder of the Seed Library of Los Angeles and garden master of The Learning Garden at Venice High School. He is also a noted garden blogger and author of the forthcoming book, Growing Food in Southern California: What to Do and When to Do It. The Seed Library of Los Angeles was established to facilitate the growth of open-pollinated seeds among residents of the Los Angeles basin. The library is building a seed collection and repository, educating members about the practice of seed saving, and creating a local community of seed-saving gardeners.

EXHIBITION at ART/SCI GALLERY: Public Fruit Maps / The Loneliest Fruit in the World (2010) 

Fallen Fruit: David Burns, Matias Viegener, and Austin Young

Exhibition is cosponsored by UCLA ART/SCI Center and the UCLA Center for the Study of Women