Dispossession, Class Formation, and the Political Imaginary of Colombia's Coffee Producers over the Longue Duree: Beyond the Polanyian Analytic

  • Phillip A. Hough Florida Atlantic University
  • Jennifer Bair University of Colorado at Boulder


For more than a decade, social scientists have been analyzing the implications of the neoliberalturn in development policy and the implications of market-led agrarian reform for agriculturalproducers in the global South. Among this work is a spate of recent scholarship celebrating anumber of flagship movements, such as the Zapatistas in Mexico or the landless movement inBrazil, which are interpreted as efforts by rural communities to resist the threat posed by thecommodification of livelihoods and the privatization of natural resources. In this article, we aimto problematize what we diagnose as the Polanyian analytic underlying accounts of thecurrent conjuncture which emphasize the imminent potential of neoliberalism to spawnprotective counter-movements of the sort described in The Great Transformation. We do sothrough an analysis of the Unidad Cafetero Nacional (UCN) movement, an organization ofColombian coffee farmers that effectively mobilized large numbers of cafeteros in the 1990s toprotest the liberalization of the global coffee market and the decline of state support for thedomestic coffee sector. While the UCN may be read as a struggle to resist the dispossession ofColombian coffee farmers, we argue that it represented a particular segment of rural producerswho wanted, first and foremost, a restoration of their relatively privileged status within thepolitical economy of Colombian agriculture. Our interpretation of the UCN suggests thatwhether movements emerge in response to neoliberalism depends on the political imaginaries ofthe social actors who would create them, and further, that these imaginaries are producedthrough processes of class formation over the longue durée that shape the meaning ofdispossession in particular contexts.
How to Cite
Hough, P. A., & Bair, J. (2012). Dispossession, Class Formation, and the Political Imaginary of Colombia’s Coffee Producers over the Longue Duree: Beyond the Polanyian Analytic. Journal of World-Systems Research, 18(1), 30-49. https://doi.org/10.5195/jwsr.2012.489
Land Rights in the World-System