The University of Arizona

Agriculture as Spectacle

Glenn D Stone

Abstract


In the influential "performance" model of agriculture, the appearance of the farm is the unintentional result of improvisational decision-making rather than the intentional result of design. However in many ways agriculture is explicitly intended to produce an appearance, often aimed at a specific audience. This phenomenon, termed agricultural spectacle, comes in many forms and serves varied aims. This article offers a theoretical framework beginning with a consideration of how agricultural spectacle differs from other classes of spectacle and from generalized societal spectacle as theorized by Debord. Most important in this regard is that agricultural spectacle generally functions as a form of synecdoche as it presents a temporal or spatial part as a representation of the whole agricultural operation. It also often relies on "captioning" to render ambiguous sights striking to viewers. But agricultural spectacle is highly diverse, as shown by exploring three axes of variation. The first axis concerns the extent to which agricultural activities are adjusted for their impact on viewers, as opposed to being conducted purely for utility and rendered spectacular after the fact. The second compares the intent of the agricultural spectacle. The last axis distinguishes scale, from plant part to field to farm to landscape.

Key Words: agriculture, spectacle, indigenous knowledge, propaganda, performance


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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.2458/v25i1.22385