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‘In These Complicated Times’: The disassembly and assembly of landscapes of irrigation in post-Soviet southern Ukraine
Stockholm University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Human Geography.ORCID iD: 0000-0001-5687-9307
(English)Manuscript (preprint) (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

This paper examines the state of irrigation in post-communist southern Ukraine, mapping and explaining the continuity of late Soviet investments in center pivot irrigation technology for large-scale agriculture in the post-Soviet period, but also situating large-scale irrigation in a regional context where there are significant changes in access to water. Some areas and groups have more, while others have less. Framing post-Soviet agrarian and irrigation change within long-term Soviet and global environmental history, particularly in relation to 20th century expansion of irrigation, this paper argues that post-Soviet developments should be seen as the consequences of a collapsing (and changing) modernization project. Theoretically, an Actor Network approach is used to explore the ontological politics surrounding different possible uses of irrigated farm fields in times of great social change, as well as the “agency” of center pivot irrigation technology, which “acts” to undermine land owners rights. This is noted as a significant irony, because the center pivot technology was originally imported from the United States during the Cold War, while post-communist land reform was influenced by the Washington Consensus. Beyond the consideration of large-scale center pivot irrigation, the emergent and uneven access to water is mapped out in and surrounding the area with most center pivot irrigation. Understanding the uneven geography of water access helps to put post-Soviet agrarian change in Ukraine in perspective, identifying the disappearance of collective farms as a primary factor driving changing access to water. The paper concludes with an assessment that the massive 20th century Soviet investments in irrigation are potentially more sustainable than other such investments, such as in the American west, thus further complicating the conventionally negative view of Soviet environmental management.

Keyword [en]
Ukraine, irrigation, agrarian change, infrastructure, multiplicity, environmental history
National Category
Human Geography
Research subject
Geography with Emphasis on Human Geography
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-146507OAI: oai:DiVA.org:su-146507DiVA: diva2:1137357
Available from: 2017-08-31 Created: 2017-08-31 Last updated: 2017-09-07Bibliographically approved
In thesis
1. Peasants and Stock Markets: Pathways from Collective Farming in the Post-Soviet Grain-Belt
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Peasants and Stock Markets: Pathways from Collective Farming in the Post-Soviet Grain-Belt
2017 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

What happened in the post-Soviet, European grain-belt after collective farms were dissolved and in what way can we say that collective farm legacies influence agrarian developments in this region today? These are the main questions of this thesis, which is a work of critical human geography, but is also inspired by theories, methods and approaches from the social sciences, broadly defined. Territorially, the focus is Ukraine, but several articles in this thesis take a wider geographic perspective beyond Ukraine, in particular taking into account the role of Nordic investors in the agrarian sector in Ukraine and Russia. The main aim of this thesis is to examine how farms of different sizes – from small peasant farms to super large corporate farms – develop and change in post-communist circumstances. Another purpose is to reinterpret Soviet agrarian history, in light of what happened after the collapse of communism, in order to incorporate the Soviet experience in a global historical narrative, and to better understand the legacy of collective farming today.

These issues are explored in four papers and a comprehensive summary. The first article examines small-scale, household “peasant” agriculture in southern Ukraine and shows the conditions and factors, which have contributed to an impressive intensification of farming in certain villages. The second article investigates large-scale, Nordic investments in Ukrainian and Russian agriculture, with the aim of explaining why many (but not all) such investments have not succeeded to the degree that investors hoped. The third paper focuses on the legacy and afterlife of Soviet-era investments in large-scale irrigation in southern Ukraine, and uses the post-Soviet reincarnation of irrigation in this region to problematize traditional narratives on Soviet environmental management in a global context. The fourth paper, with a wider historical lens, explains the link between collective farms and today’s agroholding agriculture in much of the region, while also discussing the sustainability crisis in agriculture both in a Soviet and post-Soviet context, concluding with a description of a possible and ironic (but by no means inevitable) scenario whereby post-Soviet agriculture saves global capitalism. 

Theoretically, this thesis is informed by agrarian political economy; related, contemporary debates on the financialization of agriculture; and critical human geography discussions on uneven development and the geographies of difference. This thesis also is inspired by Actor Network Theory, and the view that reality is constituted by hybrid subject-objects, which are instantiated through the agency of an assemblage or network of different actors, material things, discourses, institutions, etc... While such Actor Network approaches are certainly not new, their application to Soviet and post-Soviet change is relatively new. The source material, which is the basis for the empirical approach of this thesis, is eclectic, and produced via mixed methods from different locations. Analysis is based on interviews (75 interviews in southern Ukraine, in Kyiv, and in Stockholm, plus 28 visits to household farms in one study village in southern Ukraine); participant observation (carried out in the study village in southern Ukraine and in corporate shareholder meetings mostly in Stockholm); various texts, such as corporate documents and newspaper commentary; agricultural statistics; and satellite data. 

Among other conclusions, this thesis argues that, given certain factors, small-scale, household agriculture can be viable, at the same time that the concentration and consolidation of agriculture into large-scale holdings is likely to continue, at least in the short term. This thesis also highlights similarities between Soviet and capitalist agriculture in a global historical context, which is one reason that the transformation from Soviet to capitalist agriculture could occur so fast in some areas.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm: Department of Human Geography, Stockholm University, 2017. 89 p.
Series
Meddelanden från Kulturgeografiska institutionen vid Stockholms universitet, ISSN 0585-3508 ; 153
Keyword
Agrarian change, environmental history, Ukraine, Russia, U.S.S.R., large-scale agriculture, agroholdings, financialization, smallholders, peasants, irrigation, uneven development, actor network theory, multi-sited and mixed methods
National Category
Human Geography
Research subject
Geography with Emphasis on Human Geography
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:su:diva-146509 (URN)978-91-7649-984-9 (ISBN)978-91-7649-985-6 (ISBN)
Public defence
2017-10-27, Nordenskiöldsalen, Geovetenskapens hus, Svante Arrhenius väg 12, Stockholm, 13:00 (English)
Opponent
Supervisors
Note

At the time of the doctoral defense, the following papers were unpublished and had a status as follows: Paper 3: Manuscript. Paper 4: Manuscript.

Available from: 2017-10-04 Created: 2017-08-31 Last updated: 2017-10-09Bibliographically approved

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