The Olive as an Object of Rural Development: The Cultural Politics of Organic Food and the Making of the Local

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Burkay, Helin Ozge




This dissertation is an in-depth case study of the emergence of local organic food as an alternative rural development tool on the island of Gökçeada (Turkey). Focusing on a cluster of programs and activities identified as the Organic Project, it investigates the politics of the changing relations between producers, agricultural practices, and olive groves. Unpacking the social, political and material aspects of the operations and impact of the Organic Project, this dissertation traces the emergence of the “local organic olive” as a tool in the ethnically contentious history of rural development, nation-building and the particular manifestations of the dynamics of the Quality Turn on the island. Based on a constructivist-interpretivist methodology that foregrounds situated relational knowing and meaning-making, the thesis draws on an actor-oriented perspective to identify the micro-processes at work in the initiation and realization of the Organic Project. Through the use of interviews, participant observation and document analysis to expose diverse material and discursive processes, it traces the multi-faceted and entangled relations between the political economy of land, organic farming regulations and experiences of the olive producers. Interrogating relations between the planning and implementation of rural development programs, this study shows the frictions produced and negotiated in the making of the local. It presents an analysis of the contestations, inconsistencies and fractures in competing discourses of the local and of practices of local organic olive farming. It argues that the socio-symbolic orders of market-orientation and the history of an ethnicized political economy of land create challenges for sustainable and fair agro-food relations on the island, and prevents producers from establishing autonomous relations with the land, the produce and other producers. It suggests what the local means, and how it is enacted and promoted as a value in agro-food relations, should be carefully considered to avoid perpetuating assumptions about its inherent value and positivity. As a critical and extreme case, the Organic Project on Gökçeada highlights matters of debate in several areas of current academic interest, including the cultural politics of food, the understanding of the local, and the connections between rural development and settler histories.






Carleton University

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