Episodes of Empire



Human history has been largely molded by episodes of empire, typically initiated by an authoritarian elite wielding some freshly mastered weapon of mass dispossession. In this present episode of empire the globalised financial instruments of our times clearly fulfill a similar role. From the World Bank’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) for poverty-reduction, to the leading the poor to market projects such as Banking the Unbanked1, micro-finance, and McMicheal’s Globalisation project2 these are, right down to the most local level, aimed at inserting financial vectors for governance and dispossession from a distance. By giving the poor access to banking, the banking system also gets access to the poor.

The growing clamour for a shift in the financial sector’s attitudes about global economic-development, away from the model of capitalism dominant in the First World, towards the unified imperatives of the globalising peasant movements of the Third World has been acknowledged in the recent UN resolution.

There is also a growing accord found between the re-peasantisation changes emerging amongst First World farmers, the Third World sovereignty movements of traditional farmers, and the various global environmental movements – all are coalescing around the divers issues raised from within the food sovereignty movement.
But this will require tackling the corporate funded juggernaut of International Organisations (IOs) whose international treaties having overridden the democratic laws of most trading nations. The WTO (1995), and more especially its agrarian-related international treaties, was a watershed moment which projected the immediate prospects of humanity, in its food-dependent context, into a struggle between these two opposing conceptualisations of global development.

Empire and the Peasant Mode

Building upon James Scott (1998) who describes ‘mega projects’ as “tragic episodes of state-initiated social engineering” we could refer to Empire as the generalisation of mega projects. I will argue that, at the level of theory, the emergence of Empire, and the associated re-patterning of rural life, calls for a reconsideration of the peasant mode of production. Firstly, because the peasantry is an important pocket of resistance, thus constituting an element of multitude 3. Secondly because, at the level of practice, a widespread process of re-peasantisation is occurring throughout Europe.

This process is partly triggered by Empire, and simultaneously constitutes an actively constructed response to it. And thirdly because we note, throughout our societies an intriguing ‘traveling’ of the peasant principle.

Autonomy is a main dimension in the multiple encounters, and emerging contradictions, between Empire and the newly emerging peasantry within Europe. At the same time I will try to indicate that the associated struggles not only affect the directly involved actors but are important for society as a whole. In formulating some elements for the future research agenda for rural sociology I will therefore focus particularly on the issue of autonomy.
~ van der Ploeg (2009).  Read more … Click here.

  1. Ilcan, S. and A. Lacey (2011). Governing the Poor: Exercises of Poverty Reduction, Practices of Global Aid. Partnering the Poor, Montreal/London: McGill-Queens University Press.
  2. McMichael, P. (2005). “Global Development And The Corporate Food Regime.” New Directions in the Sociology of Global Development Research in Rural Sociology and Development 11: 265-299.
  3. Hardt and Negri (2000). Empire
  4. Hardt, M. and A. Negri (2004). Multitude : war and democracy in the Age of Empire. New York, The Penguin Press.


Mexican workers head across the border because U.S. corn is exported to Mexico at 19% below cost of its production. But wait — isn’t the meaning of ‘Free Trade’ to have trade freed from subsidies and tariffs? U.S. corporate agri-business is cheating.

″In their international bestseller Empire, (2000) Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri presented a grand unified vision of a world in which the old forms of imperialism are no longer effective, and the various nation-states, even the most powerful, have to surrender much of their sovereignty to a supranational, multidimensional network of power they call Empire.”
“But what of Empire in an age of “American empire”? Many say that the unilateral war on terror conducted by the United States proves that old-school imperialism is alive and well.
In Multitude Hardt and Negri argue that the reverse is true: the grievous failures of the U.S. project only confirm that using the tools of a previous historical moment to address contemporary problems is a recipe for ever more conflict, insecurity, and instability. The only way for the rich and powerful to maintain their interests and guarantee the global order is to establish a broad collaboration among the ruling powers in a new form of Empire. But such an imperial peace is by no means the solution for the vast majority of the world; such a “peace” really presides over a global state of violence that is progressively permeating all aspects of our society, exacerbating hierarchies, and subverting the traditional possibilities of democratic exchange.″