Axel Fisher (Technische Universität Berlin / Université libre de Bruxelles / FNRS)

Assessing Modernist Rural Development and Colonization Policies through the Lense of “Comparative Agriculture”

While there has been an enduring scholarly interest for what we have named “Modernist Rural Landscapes” within MODSCAPES, few have attempted to approach the topic for what they primarily are: agricultural development policies. To which extent are Modernist Rural Landscapes in fact the result of a “development” policy, and of which kind of development are we actually talking about?

Some empiric observations on the case studies considered within MODSCAPES show the oscillation of such policies between a limited number of well-established and fundamentally opposed farming models: the isolated small-holders family farm on one hand, and the US-inspired large and extensive industrial farm, with the collective farm attempting to reconcile the two. But is it possible to go beyond mere the description of the planning objectives underlying the planning scheme for this or that Modernist Rural Landscape, and make an attempt to evaluate who actually benefited and benefits from one of these agricultural development schemes?

To this aim, the discipline of “Comparative Agriculture” promises to offer answers. It builds upon the concept of “Agrarian System” established by the French School of Human Geography to describe and understand historical rural landscapes, but aims at reconciling this mainly descriptive approach with a more action oriented output, where the critical attitude towards the notion of “development” is central.

This contribution, whose spirit is more experimental and programmatic than assertive and conclusive, aims at testing the potential of such approach against three case studies: the Fascist reclamation of the Pontine Marshes, the early Zionist agricultural colonisation of Palestine, the Francoist internal colonisation of Spain. In doing so, it will explore the possible outcomes in terms of setting up an agenda for acting within such Modernist Rural Landscapes, rather than only describing them.