Seminar Theme

A central aspect of the Center is a weekly seminar that meets every Wednesday morning from 10 AM-12 PM. This seminar is a chance to bring student and faculty fellows together with distinguished visiting scholars around the annual theme. Below are descriptions of current and past seminar themes.


Agrarian Questions, Urban Connections, and Planetary Possibilities: fire, water, earth and air

Over the last year, the Center for Place, Culture, and Politics at the CUNY Graduate Center has been exploring historical and current elements of the “Agrarian Question” in different territories of the planet. The material conditions of agrarian life are deeply connected to the political, social, economic, environmental and cultural challenges of contemporary existence at a planetary scale. Agrarian spaces are central to geopolitical disputes over land and other natural resources, and rural social movements play a key role in defending biodiversity and food production. Moreover, agrarian spaces are linked to urban places through the flows of people, goods, money, information, and waste. In this context, some questions discussed were, for example, how have regimes of capital, particularly those associated with agribusiness, industrial, financial and trading corporations fractured rural communities transnationally, and how have they been they are able to resist? How have rural social movements internationally sought an exit point from hegemonic modes of agricultural oppression and primitive accumulation? How have rural social movements connected and organized with urban social movements? The 2021-2022 seminar will build on its discussions of these and other questions using four linked online panels and themes around fire, water, earth, and air.

The rubric of water summons the environmental and social impacts of rising sea levels, corporate -fishing, water pollution, and associated relations between commodity circulation and sea lanes or oceanic cable networks. The privatization of water and water grabbing by agribusiness, mining, dams and other predatory corporations are major threats to distribution and access of water as a human right, accentuating that water is a primary arena of socio-economic contestation.

Similarly, using earth at a global scale, we imagine examining earth as soil, as a biodiverse base of socialization, of food production versus mono-cropping of commodities, or earth in terms of the geo-economics and labor relations of mining (rare earth metals, for instance), or the problem of soil erosion and water pollution through the use of chemical inputs based on fossil fuels, genetically modified seeds, and large irrigation systems in agribusiness plantations, which are a main cause of environmental destruction and climate change.

The theme of fire is a provocation on questions of deforestation, the increasing impact of wildfires and the destruction of biodiversity, which is also linked to increasing risks of global pandemics and of climate change. Air will be discussed in several vital registers, including both obvious interrelations of pollution and industrial agriculture, such as in the expansion of mono-cropping plantations for agrofuels, but also via the commodification and financialization of land and other natural resources.

These themes may differentiate topics yet the overall aim is to consider critical questions of co-constitution and interdependency. For instance, a discussion on displacement of rural communities is related to an examination of housing, food and labor exploitation in urban areas. What might begin as a local discussion of labor and land is enmeshed in broader concerns over radical politics of planetary survival and justice. Thus, fire, water, air, and earth, are not just mnemonic devices but constitute a heuristic for social change.


The Agrarian Question Today

When Karl Kautsky published  The Agrarian Question in 1899 he focused radical attention on the fate of peasants and agricultural workers in general in the face of expanding and industrializing capitalism.  Obviously, many of the material conditions of agrarian life, locally and globally, have changed demonstrably, as have the methodological parameters used to formulate the problematic. Yet, in the context of what appears to be inexorable urbanization, it is just as clear that agrarian questions are deeply enmeshed in the political, social, economic, and cultural challenges of contemporary existence.  How have newer regimes of capital, particularly those associated with agri-business and food conglomerates, both formed and fractured agricultural communities?  What kinds of contradictions underlie “land grabs” and related questions of resource sovereignty? Within combined and uneven development, how have the global south and the colonized north sought to exit agricultural dispossession and primitive accumulation?  How do direct producers cobble together livelihoods ? How is the agrarian gendered and racialized in the present?  How have agrarian workers organized and resisted the claims of global and neoliberal capitalism on their labor, land, and productive capacities as a whole?  How should the “agrarian question” be framed in light of the specter of environmental collapse and the technological “efficiencies” of maximal production and genetic modification?  Does the massive proletarianization of the peasantry (for instance, in China under the rubric of modernization) represent a further extension of capitalist desire or does it augur new and transformative modes of common agricultural production and redistribution?  To what extent do rural imaginations constitute a resource of hope in the present?  How are positive alternatives to agrarian exploitation being expressed? And finally, how have do mega cities of the global south articulate many of these contradictions while producing new social subjects?


Mobilizations and Migrations

However the international order is characterized, it is clear that various forms of internationalism are in distress.  These are at work both in producing violent conflagration and in generating moving populations across the globe (migrant labor, refugees, asylum seekers, exiles, emigres, etc.).  How, then, can internationalism be thought and articulated anew?  How can it productively and creatively address various modes of encounter and representation?  How can it build on radical genealogies of international solidarity in ways that interlink vital discussions of borders and walls with the systemic relations of racial capitalism and its spatial fixes in the current conjuncture?  How do migrations mediate mobilizations as political possibility?  Do revolutionary/decolonial reconfigurations of people in/against territories represent the new horizon of internationalism?  How does culture, for instance, mediate the complex parameters of space, place, and the movements between both to fathom contemporary crises and to enable a positive knowledge of their solution?


Insurgent Solidarities

–histories, formations, futures—

 Given the political challenges of the present, the necessity for a deeper understanding of radical solidarity appears more pressing than ever. Yet while solidarity has been pivotal to social change since at least the Haitian Revolution, how it is articulated has never been less than problematic. Is it a process of political change? Is it its goal? How does solidarity define what it is against without excluding forms of political difference that might enhance it? What can be learned from solidarity in the past, especially when contingent solidarity in the present regards such a history with justifiable incredulity? There can be no doubt that notions of solidarity continue to impact creatively how one understands political opposition and change, how one interrogates constituency and allies, goals and timelines. The differences of solidarity and a respect for the specificity of particular struggles clearly invigorates how solidarity is now engaged, but solidarity can also be more than negotiated coalitions and fragmented alliances. The CPCP seminar 2018-2019 encourages applications on the theme of “insurgent solidarities.” What makes solidarity insurgent? Is it its composition or the kind of change it struggles to affect? What are its political and cultural scales and modes, and what are their significance today? In what ways is solidarity not just an object of knowledge, but actively produces it?

Visit this page for information about previous seminar themes.