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Susanne A. Wengle

Apr 15, 2022

Black Earth, White Bread

A Technopolitical History of Russian Agriculture and Food

University of Wisconsin Press 2022

In Black Earth, White Bread: A Technopolitical History of Russian Agriculture and Food (University of Wisconsin Press, 2022), Dr. Susanne A. Wengle shows how agrotechnology served—and undermined—Soviet and Russian political projects. “The book emphasises a tight connection between political change, technological change in food systems, and the transformation of everyday lives - a connection that we can grasp and understand through the lens of technopolitics.”

Like all facets of daily life, the food that Russian farms produced and citizens ate—or, in some years, didn’t eat—underwent radical shifts in the century between the Bolshevik Revolution and Vladimir Putin’s presidency. The modernization of agriculture during this time is usually understood in terms of advances in farming methods. Dr. Susanne A. Wengle’s important interdisciplinary history of Russia’s agriculture and food systems, however, documents a far more complex story of the interactions between political policies, daily cultural practices, and technological improvements.

“A central augment of this book is that politics and technologies together drive a change in food systems and that we should think of food systems as technopolitical regimes. Technopolitics refers to the support of and reliance on agricultural technologies - from tractors to CRISPR techniques - in policy regimes that seek to realise particular political goals and utopias. A technopolitical regime is forged by privileged agents of change and the technologies they employ to grow crops and raise animals.”

Examining governance, production, consumption, nature, and the ensuing vulnerabilities of the agrifood system, Dr. Wengle reveals the intended and unintended consequences of Russian agricultural policies since 1917. Ultimately, Black Earth, White Bread calls attention to Russian technopolitics and how macro systems of government impact life on a daily, quotidian level. “Food systems can be a lens to track interactions between domains of life that are too often seen as discrete and disconnected, such as rural production and urban consumption. They can also tell us about the interactions between human realms and the nonhuman realms of crops, livestock, climate and soil conditions.”

This interview was conducted by Dr. Miranda Melcher whose doctoral work focused on post-conflict military integration, understanding treaty negotiation and implementation in civil war contexts, with qualitative analysis of the Angolan and Mozambican civil wars.

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Miranda Melcher

Miranda Melcher (Ph.D., Defense Studies, Kings College, London) studies post-conflict military integration, understanding treaty negotiation and implementation in civil war contexts, with deep analysis of the Angolan and Mozambican civil wars.

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