Three Meals Away: Crisis and Violence in the Global Food System Open Access

Heslin, Alison (2016)

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The globalized nature of the modern day system of food production, coupled with societal shifts that have moved people away from the land, has created new opportunities and new vulnerabilities for the growing world population. While this interconnected system has allowed for greater variety and availability of food products throughout the world, linking local populations to global supply chains, it has also made these populations vulnerable to price and supply fluctuations throughout the world. This project investigates the mechanisms by which global shocks are felt and reacted to at the local level, using a comparative case study of food riots that occurred in South Asia in 2007 and 2008. Specifically, I focus on the local level political, economic, and social dynamics that interacted with global price increases to create or mollify violent protests. To illuminate these local factors, I draw on a variety of data, including extensive interviews collected throughout 2014 with residents of West Bengal, India and Dhaka, Bangladesh. Through a comparison of local characteristics and detailed explanations of riots from areas with and without riots, I test hypotheses on food riot occurrence developed by drawing on studies of historical and contemporary food riots as well as theories of social movements. This study finds support for moral economy theory and additional proposed factors in mobilizing the riots in West Bengal and Dhaka. In comparing riots in India to those in Bangladesh, this study complicates the depiction of food riots as a unique form of collective action, and instead demonstrates their resemblance to other forms of collective action, brought on by food insecurity.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgements 6
1 Introduction 1
2 Understanding Variation in Protest Occurrences 10
What is a food riot? 10
Evolution of the Food Riot 11
Theories of 18th Century Food Riots 13
Contemporary Riots 20
A Theory of Contemporary Riots 25
3 Food Riots as Contentious Politics: Explaining variation in food riots 30
Contentious Politics 32
Resource Mobilization 33
Class Conflict 35
Why Now? 37
International Food Regime and the Global Food Crisis 38
Hypotheses 45
4 Methods 50
Study Design 50
Process Tracing 58
Case Selection 59
Data Collection 61
Analysis 66
5 Hunger as Corruption and Political Opportunity: The Case of West Bengal, India 73
The Case of West Bengal: 2007 73
Structural Basis of Conflict 75
Mobilization 80
Role of the Media 92
Conclusion 95
6 Hunger as Exploitation: The Case of Bangladesh 97
Bangladesh's Ready Made Garment Industry 97
Unions and Collective Bargaining 105
The Case of Bangladesh: 2008 109
Structural Basis of Conflict 112
Mobilization 116
Employers' Countermovement Repertoire 120
Conclusion 123
7 Food Riots as Modern Class Conflict: India vs Bangladesh 127
Participants and Targets 130
Mobilization and Demands 132
Reactions and Outcomes 135
8 Conclusion 140
Bibliography 146

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