Agricultural policy discourses in the European post-Fordist transition: Neoliberalism, neomercantilism and multifunctionality

Clive Potter, Mark Tilzey

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218 Citations (Scopus)


A renewal of academic interest in agricultural restructuring in western Europe raises questions about causality, processes and outcomes. In particular, the relationship between deep-set structural tendencies and policy trends and the way these are constituted in relation to, and mediated through, the agency of individual land managers and other actors is emerging as a central research concern of rural social scientists. In this paper we focus on the first part of this equation, arguing that international and European agricultural restructuring needs to be rediscovered as an essentially sociopolitical project, the outcome of a struggle for influence and power between different class fractions of capital during a long and contested transition to a post-Fordist regime of accumulation. Rather than witnessing the shift towards a postproductivist agriculture anticipated by some recent commentators, we argue that the dominant framing is in favour of a neoliberal regime of market productivism, leading to the further integration of large parts of European agriculture into agro-food circuits of capital. While the neoliberal discourse which provides the intellectual justification for this process is heavily contested by advocates of a long standing form of neomercantilism and by a more recently invented discourse of agricultural multifunctionality, the entrenched position of neoliberal ideas and framings within the World Trade Organization (WTO) means that the ideology of the free market is coming to define the terms of international, and thus European, agricultural policy reform. The recent history of reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and wider rural policy reform in the European Union (EU) nevertheless suggests that the European policy stance is one of partial resistance to unfettered liberalization, policy-makers apparently having embarked on an attempt to combine elements of the neoliberal programme with continued commitment to state assistance in various forms. This sets the frame for the regulation of an increasingly bimodal agricultural industry, in which spaces for postproductivism and rural development are being defined and defended in public interest and public good terms but where there are few opportunities to question the enforced segregation and commodification of rural space and environmental provision that this implies.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to) 581-600
Number of pages20
JournalProgress in Human Geography
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2005
Externally publishedYes


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