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Author ORCID Identifier



Open Access Dissertation

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program

Political Science

Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded


First Advisor

Nicholas Xenos

Second Advisor

Ivan Ascher

Third Advisor

James Boyce

Subject Categories

Political Theory


I aim to speak to those studying environmentalism, food politics, and contemporary political theory, as well as provide a new way to consider the question of political economic order. I investigate three “alternative” political discourses in the United States, study their effect upon the political economic vision of the American alternative agri-food movement, and relate these effects to the stability of the American political economy. Scholars working in several disciplines attribute this stability—achieved despite economic crises and growing inequality—to the hegemony of neoliberalism. I suggest a different route: the status quo is also maintained when discourses (anterior and ulterior to neoliberalism) that represent alternatives fail to challenge political economic structures. Three discourses common to alternative American politics today—localism, political ecology, and pastoral agrarianism—do just this. By advocating economic relocalization, attunement to local nature, and rural living, actors building these discourses hope to harness the powers of place and nature against the social alienation and environmental degradation of globalism, productivism, and anthropocentrism. What these discourses do not consider is the manner in which market forces work within place and cut across space, mediating the socio-­‐economic structures and ecologies of local places. For instance, the combination of private property and competitive markets fosters microeconomic logics and effects wherein within localities we find not “community” but a diverse array of actors, disparate interests and eco-­‐social relations, asymmetries of power and material outcomes. Not only do these discourses elide such forces from their critical vision, they foreclose analysis into them through their idealizations of place and nature. This enables activists to replicate these structures in their own movement practice—witness the reliance of the agri-food movement on market institutions and consumerism. This neoliberal outcome is not, I argue, determined by neoliberalism but instead by the qualities of the discourses constituting the movement. I suggest that scholars ought to look to the ideas working at the margin if they wish to understand the politics of the center.