Producing Food, Security, and the Geopolitical Subject

Abstract: This study uses food as a lens through which to empirically and theoretically problematize the concept of security. Food – its supply, provision, and access – is situated at the center of several interconnected crises, from environmental and climatic upheaval to growing geopolitical turbulence and great power competition. Over the past decade, in connection with these urgent international problems, food has increasingly also been articulated as a matter of security. However, as this study demonstrates, food as security – or food security – does not yet represent a common conceptual or ontological foundation upon which coordinated, concerted, and global action can take place. Rather, as with the concept of “security” more broadly, food security remains polysemic and contested, and – as this study posits – holds no essential meaning besides that which is attributed to it in specific settings, by and for someone. Indeed, contemporary articulations of food security range from classical geopolitical notions of food as part of strategic, zero-sum advantage and state power, to food as a part of a positive-sum, cooperative notion addressing hunger universally for individuals. Rather than taking either interpretation for granted, this study instead problematizes both, specifically as they feature in the policy spaces of the Russian Federation and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). To do so, the study empirically traces how state-centered and human-centered accounts of food as security were institutionalized in these respective policy settings. Following how these contingent understandings of food security came to be so understood, however, the study serves to challenge fixed notions and theorizations of security more broadly. It forefronts the role that politics plays in the story of what security means and for whom it is intended. And it suggests that food security is both not only reflective but also (re-)productive of different ways of conducting international politics more generally.

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