Natures Unruly Mob: Farming and the Crisis in Rural Culture

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It should be widely read. From work horses, threshing crews and silo-filling rings, huge gardens, quilting bees and one-room schools, township demographics changed in twenty-five years from thirty farms to three.

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Returning to northern Wisconsin from St. Louis in , Gilk built a cottage in the woods of what had been part of the family farm. Several years of intensive study followed.

Life of a Farmer in Rural China

He has made a living by farm work, woods work, carpentry, writing, and folk music. Get A Copy.

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Nature's Unruly Mob: Farming and the Crisis in Rural Culture

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Introduction. Land, ‘Development’ and ‘Security’ in Bangladesh and India

Trivia About Nature's Unruly M People began to care for the forest — including the trees, plants, and the wildlife that returned to the forest as it regenerated — in the same way as intimate social relations are developed, by spending time together and paying attention to each other. Through thengapalli, the labour of patrolling and taking care of the forests is dispersed, and the opportunity to develop an affective relationship with the forest through active attention is shared broadly within the community.

In my research, I have found that when villagers delegate patrolling responsibilities to a hired watchman, they have fewer opportunities to develop affective relations with the forest, which dramatically diminishes their overall enthusiasm for the forest. Even though other activities, such as visiting the forest to gather wood or other forest produce, offer opportunities for an embodied connection, thengapalli offers a different attunement to the forest due to the labour invested in its care.

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This resonates with Norton et al. Still, more systematic research is needed to understand the processes and conditions that lead to affective relations between people and forests. Understanding the conditions that lead to these affective relations and foster environmental subjectivities is of central importance for fostering care of the commons. In the following sections, I elaborate the conceptual ideas about affect and affective relationality followed by a discussion about subjectivity and discuss how attention on affects and subjectivity helps think about fostering the subjectivity of being a commoner.

In recent years, the social sciences and humanities have seen an explosion of interest in the ideas of affect and emotions. Affect in this formulation is seen as the power to affect and be affected, and the relationship between these two powers Hardt, Affect is different from emotions as conventionally understood and denotes a relational force that flows between bodies and which enhances or diminishes their power of acting Deleuze and Guattari, To affect and be affected is to be open to the world and to the possibility of being transformed through this engagement with the material world.

Affect is a pre-cognitive and transpersonal intensity that flows through and defines bodies — where bodies are not limited to human bodies. To fully capture the entirety of human experience, it is important to focus on the interrelated domains of feelings, emotions, and affects, and to recognize that they are a necessary accompaniment of cognition and rationality instead of an impediment to it.

Rather, it compels appreciation that thinking and feeling are inseparable. Instead of the striving for utility maximization that dominates economic imagination, Spinoza offers conatus, that is, a striving for associations that enhance our capacity to act and give us joy Read, Spinozian theories about affect and conatus support a relational ontological perspective that shifts attention from essences or totalities to relations, emergence, and co-becomings.

Challenging the conception of humans as homo economicus, a Spinozian perspective suggests that we are not only hardwired to maximize utility but are also driven by the desire to care, give, and be valued as givers. Questioning the homo economicus model of humans is, of course, not new. In the field of behavioral economics, a large body of literature establishes that emotions and the subconscious realm play an important role in human decision-making Norton et al. Furthermore, thinking and feeling happens not only in our brains but is also connected to embodied ways of being and negotiating our way through the environment.

Neuroscience is thus confirming what Spinoza intuited more than three centuries ago and expressed in the form of his theory of mind and body parallelism. Moreover, the shepherd is not a stand-alone actor but a relational being entangled in a complex set of relations with other human and nonhuman actors. The self that emerges through these affective socio-natural interactions differs from the atomized individual subject of Western thought.

This self includes a sensibility and concern for the well-being of others with whom it is relationally entangled, a point that I elaborate in greater detail in the following section on subjectivities. Philosophers and activists alike have highlighted that the current ecological crisis demands us to rethink our modes of being human Plumwood, ; Klein, As feminist eco-philosopher Val Plumwood 1, cited in Roelvink, puts it:. If our species does not survive the ecological crisis, it will probably be due to our failure…to work out new ways to live with the earth, to rework ourselves…We will go onwards in a different mode of humanity, or not at all.

Reinventing a different mode of being human is thus one of the most critical challenges of our time, which compels attention to the conditions of subjectivity formation. But in nature-society studies, the issue of subjectivities has been relatively neglected Morales and Harris, This is changing, however, with an increasing realization that the crisis of the environment is connected fundamentally to human ways of being and relating to the world.

Here, I deepen this analysis by arguing that we need to analyze how collective subjectivities emerge from the entangled affective ecologies of nature, society, and the self. Affect theory presents analytical tools for such transversal thinking that unravels the conditions for our subjectification. The commons, as autonomous Marxist Antonio Negri tells us, are not just resources for supporting material existence but are sources for nurturance of our subjectivity.

It denotes a loss of control over the conditions for the production of subjectivity. Freeing up the conatus, or human striving, from the narrowly defined striving of utility maximization, and allowing alternate ways of being and subjectivities outside of the dominant market logic to emerge, is fundamental to the process of revival of the commons. Revival of the commons, then, becomes critical not simply from the perspective of restoration of access and control over physical resources, but from the perspective of countering this alienation and finding a way to produce alternate subjectivities and alternate worlds.

From this perspective, we need to reclaim the commons as material resources not only for subsistence and livelihood but also as the grounds for the production of subjectivity. As Read emphasizes, the struggle over the commons, including the knowledge commons and the digital commons, is as much a struggle over the forces and relations that produce subjectivity as it is a struggle over wealth and value Read, In view of this, commons scholars need to pay attention to the conditions of subjectivity production in addition to institutions, discourses, and power relations that shape the production or disappearance of the commons.

Expanding subjectivities beyond the realm of the psyche, we need to theorize and analyze them as collectively experienced and not only a means of understanding and making sense of the world, but also as a major force shaping the world that we live in. Simondon is one of the most inventive thinkers of twentieth-century philosophy whose work has been somewhat neglected within the English-speaking audience. Through his theory of transindividuality, Simondon questions the centrality of the individual and the principle of individuation within Western philosophy Read, ; Combes, The first thesis states that individuation is never concluded , which suggests that the pre-individual is never fully translated into singularity, rather the subject is the interweaving of pre-individual elements and individuated characteristics ibid.

The day-to-day embodied practices in the forest, through which one sees the mahua flowers spread on the forest floor, smells its intoxicating scent, and feels the shade of the tree in the smoldering heat as one gathers and touches the flower are all affects that depend on senses that are part of a generic biological endowment Singh, In doing so, he calls for a radical understanding of the process wherein a principle is not only put to work but is also constituted through the process. Such a processual understanding of subjectivity has important implications for rethinking the notion of the subject in political thought and practice.

These ways of conceptualizing the self and subjectivity resonate strongly with indigenous views of thinking about the self as entangled with the rest of the world de Castro, ; Kohn, ; Ingold, ; Suchet-Pearson et al. Indigenous cultures around the world give primacy to relations and relational existence that emerge from their stance of connectedness, gratitude, and solidarity with the rest of the world.

In this view, the self is not seen as an autonomous subject acting on the world, but as a relational emergence responding to the world.


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Commons scholars and activists are well-positioned to contribute to the cross-fertilization of these ideas and to explore empirically and theoretically how different ways of being in the world are conditioned by ways of relating to the commons. A critical opening to explore is how different understandings of the self and relational ethics emerge from certain ways of being with the world and how Indigenous perspectives about the commons can offer ways of nurturing a stance of interdependence and care for the more-than-human world.

The subjectivity of being forest caregivers emerges from their everyday actions of caring for the forest. Affects play an important role in the process and are the medium by which intersubjective relations with their social and natural environment are strengthened, as a growing body of literature is now beginning to appreciate Anderson, ; Sultana, ; Nightingale, ; Milton, ; Dallman et al. In this case, affective relations with forests are also shaped by the materiality of the forest and local subsistence dependence on it.

These affective relations are further strengthened through conservation care practices and play an important role in strengthening subjectivities of being a commoner in active relationship with the forest and with other villagers who share these landscapes. Although he was referring to social relations and relations of accountability within a social setting, he could have been espousing relational ontology and echoing a Spinozan conception of collective bodies. These new subjectivities of forest conservationists include a sense of being part of a community of forest caregivers and of having affective relations with the forests that they have cared for.

By creating conditions for such emergences, these kinds of subjectivities can be fostered. Understanding the conditions that enable such emergences, then, becomes critical from the perspective of nurturing alternate subjectivities and post-capitalist futures.


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The multitudes of examples of collective action for reclaiming or creating new commons are appropriate sites to explore processes contributing to the production of subjectivity. In recent years, the concept of the commons has become central to anti-capitalist struggles. Diverse projects for commoning that include community gardens, local currencies, community supported agriculture, bio-cultural restoration efforts, peer-to-peer production initiatives, and so on see Bollier and Heinrich, , for several dozen examples.

A wide range of activists and practitioners are invoking the vocabulary of the commons to defend the disappearing material commons as well as to expand non-material commons as practices for building communities, solidarity, and alternate subjectivities De Peuter and Dyer-Witheford, , De Angelis, Commoning is seen as a way to reclaim control over our lives and over the conditions of our reproduction ibid.

While natural resource commons in the CPR theories are defined in terms of rivalry and possibilities of exclusion, the cultural and intellectual commons are not subject to a similar logic of scarcity and exclusionary use McCarthy, and are rather seen as abundant. The analytical lens of affect and relational ontology helps bring to light the productive overlaps between these diverse ways of thinking about the commons.

The commons are not just shared natural resources but are also our shared affective capacities to act and respond, and these affective capacities shape encounters, driven by conatus or striving as a force for becoming. The commons are thus sites for affective encounters between humans and the more-than-human material world, as well as practices that nurture these relations. Thinking in relational terms about affective encounters helps us appreciate the important role of the more-than-human actors in the production of the commons and commoners.

The commons, both as material resources and as conditions for subjectivity, get produced due to the coming together of the labour and creative energies of humans and more-than-human actors. And value emerges from this coming together, and thus what we need to cherish, value, and advance are opportunities for such coming together and for co-flourishing. Commons are nurtured through commoning practices that, in turn, enable us to think, feel, and act as a commoner.


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Such a perspective helps us to think about the commons not just as lived-in landscapes but as living landscapes that are alive with dynamic social and ecological relations. The latest developments in the sciences, especially within quantum physics and new biology, also lend support to these perspectives of connectedness, emergence, and contingency.

While these ideas may be new, or newly rediscovered, in the social sciences, they form the bedrock of Indigenous worldviews, where the world is seen as alive and as an active participant in the unfolding of human drama instead of being merely an inert backdrop for it.