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Sowing Change: The Making of Havana’s Urban Agriculture, by Adriana Premat

By Paul Ryer, daily life, new book, urban life Add comments

Recently released is Sowing Change: The Making of Havana’s Urban Agriculture, by Adriana Premat, published as part of the new Cuba series at Vanderbilt University Press.  The book will be a welcome addition to the growing body of research on contemporary Cuban food and food production, and is due to be released November 26th.  Congratulations, Adriana!

 Here is the description from the publisher’s press release:

Following the dissolution of the Soviet bloc, Cuba found itself struggling to find its place in a new geopolitical context, while dealing with an unprecedented agricultural and food crisis that experts feel foreshadows the future of many countries across the globe. Sowing Change traces the evolution of the officially endorsed urban agriculture movement in the capital city of Havana, considering its political significance for the Cuban government and its import for transnational actors in the field of sustainable development. But the analysis does not stop at official understandings and representations of this movement. Rather, it brings into focus the perspectives of small-scale urban farmers–real men and women who live at the conceptual margins of the Cuban economy and struggle to balance personal needs and dreams with political ideals and government expectations, in a context where those very ideals and expectations continually shift. Sowing Change is a timely reflection on the changing agricultural, urban, and power landscapes of post-Soviet Cuba that, finally, queries common presumptions about this socialist nation and its now famous urban agriculture experience.

 

UPDATE (November 2013):  I have just taught this book in a graduate seminar topic focused on Cuban food production, and in the process of a close reading and discussion of the text, have concluded that the real contribution of this very accessible book to anthropological thought, as well as the the ethnographic literature of Cuba, is not simply on the topic of “urban agriculture,” but rather, in its close examination of the shifting relationship of state and citizen, from the relative openness and improvisation of the scarce years of the 1990s, to the recentralizations of the 2000s and beyond.  Here, I found the text dovetailed with Katherine Verdery’s (1996) oft-cited model of fluctuating socialist state relations to parallel markets, and wished I had also assigned the first part of Verdery’s book in counterpoint, as well as wishing that Premat had engaged more closely with that model.  In any case, my students were very taken with the book, particularly with the personal stories of urban gardeners.  Again, though, this is not simply a story of a few urban garderners in Havana in the wake of the Special Period; it is, truly, a story of the relationship of Cuban citizens and their state over the past two decades, and in that sense, would be worth considering for a wide variety of upper-level undergraduate courses, as well as of more interest to colleagues than perhaps the specificity of the title and topic would suggest.

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