‘The Global as ARTEFACT: Understanding the Patterns of Global Political History Through an Anthropology of Knowledge – The Case of Agriculture in Four Global Systems from the Neolithic to the Present’ is an ERC-funded research project hosted by CRASSH, University of Cambridge (2017 – 2023).
ARTEFACT aims to offer a novel understanding and theorisation of ‘the global’ by examining the constitution and transformation of global political structures from the anthropological perspective of humankind’s epistemic development. To do so it takes as a case-study the emergence and diffusion of four major global agricultural revolutions of the ancient, medieval, modern, and contemporary eras, focusing on the patterns and pathways characterising the co-constitution and co-evolution of global and international socio-political and epistemic structures and processes in each of, and across, these major historical configurations.
ARTEFACT also aims to create an academic-institutional space for the development of ‘Global Epistemics’ as a cross-disciplinary field of theoretical and empirical inquiry, concerned with the global production, diffusion, exchange, and use of human knowledges across their different cultural configurations and ideational-material manifestations. Advanced cross-disciplinary collaborations and pedagogical training will be fostered through the development of a global network of academic cooperation and activities, an institutional and virtual infrastructure, and a publishing outlet dedicated to the free diffusion of its research outputs. The Centre for Global Knowledge Studies (gloknos) was launched at CRASSH in 2018, with the intention of creating opportunities for a range of international collaborations in cross-disciplinary research and pedagogical training, through the organisation of seminars, symposia, and summer schools.
ARTEFACT is funded by the European Research Council under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Framework Programme for Research and Innovation (ERC grant agreement no. 724451).
ARTEFACT adopts an anthropological approach to the emergence and transformation of global political systems or ‘world-systems’, focusing specifically on how the development and diffusion of human knowledges have affected global socio-political structures and processes.
‘Knowledge’ is here understood as the sustainable and transmittable stock of collective representations, techniques, and skills of social and material organisation, (re)production and control that human collectives develop in response to challenges arising from their natural and social environments. From this perspective, ARTEFACT is interested in how different epistemic configurations come into existence and diffuse (or not) across socio-cultural and socio-geographical areas, and with what effects in terms of short- and long-term socio-political structures and processes. The focus is very much on processual phenomena of (co)constitution/(co)evolution and global connectivity.
In terms of temporal scope and scale, the project is dedicated to a ‘big’ anthropological approach that would capture general evolutionary patterns of our species’ epistemic development and transformation across cultural areas in different socio-economic and natural environments/conditions. The anthropological perspective is therefore combined with a longue-durée global historical approach that goes back to knowledges predating the emergence of writing technologies. Simultaneously, the project goes beyond the formal and contemporary classifications of knowledge that segregate scientific from non-scientific, and theoretical from praxical/empirical/indigenous knowledges. The anthropological perspective aims to capture precisely the way that epistemic innovations transmute – spatially, intellectually, and institutionally – into differently configured, and more or less ideationalised or materialised/embodied, systems of knowledge, that are ‘owned’ and ‘carried’ by more or less institutionalised collectivities (from manual workers and migrants to research institutions and multinational corporations).
The empirical ‘anchor’ of the project is agriculture, which provides a perfect case-study given its anthropological and historical scale, and its role in the socio-political and natural histories of humanity. The project draws on agricultural studies to conceptualise the evolutionary patterns of the transformation of agricultural systems in different regions of the world, and better track the diffusion of agricultural products (conceived as carriers of human knowledge), infrastructures, techniques, and practices across these regions and through time. This will be examined in conjunction with the constitution and transformation of socio-political and cultural structures, in four increasingly inclusive ‘global systems’ from Antiquity to the contemporary era, which will be subjected to a comparative analysis.
The four epistemic-political global configurations that will be examined are:
- The Near-Eastern Neolithic Agricultural Revolution and its impact on the constitution and transformation of the Ancient Mediterranean Empires. This work package will focus on the Mesopotamian (Sumero-Akkadian and Babylonian) Empires and their cultural-political extensions across the Mediterranean area, especially in Egypt and Greece.
- The ‘Arabic’ Agricultural Revolution of the ‘medieval’ era in the context of the constitution and spread of the Umayyad and Abbasid Caliphates and their cultural-political extensions into North Africa and southern Europe (Italy and Spain), with their characteristic diffusion of technological and scientific innovations, and agricultural infrastructures and products from India to Europe.
- The British Agricultural Revolution of the ‘modern’ period in the context of the rise and expansion of the British Empire and the consolidation of the scientific revolution.
- The ‘Green’ Agricultural Revolution of the 1950s in the context of the bipolar global system of the Cold War and the early decades of the post-Cold War multipolar system and its associated networks of epistemic transfer and exchanges.
In each of these four work packages, analysis will focus on the relevant agriculture-related knowledge-systems and epistemic objects of that era (from the first writing and mathematical technologies and agricultural techniques of Antiquity to the medical, agronomic, and genetic advances of contemporary science, as well as local and traveling indigenous knowledges of farming communities). The constitution, evolution, and diffusion of these epistemic objects and configurations will be investigated in relation to the structures and processes of global connectivity characteristic of each period and global system (trade, slavery, migrations, war/empire, religious missions, translation movements, networks of learning, scientific travels and cooperation, etc.).
The Graft Hybrid: How Chimeral Organisms Have Challenged Genetics
Genetics and the Mendelian principles underlying it are called upon in almost every aspect of our lives. Our genes supposedly determine everything from our personality to future health risks. Human manipulation of the genome through selective breeding and crossing also underpins global agriculture. Yet how did this come to be? Was there a time when our understanding of heredity and breeding could have taken a very different path? ARTEFACT-Hybrid explores a fundamental, yet unexamined, aspect of the history of genetics and biotechnology: the graft hybrid.
At the heart of ARTEFACT-Hybrid is the question of whether grafting could create new plants and animals. Over two millennia ago, Theophrastus of Eresus divided the art of grafting into two. While practitioners of the first type worked in harmony with nature, the second group were troublemakers, who grafted wildly different plants in the hopes of producing such horticultural monstrosities as stoneless or multi-coloured fruit. These monstrosities would later be termed graft hybrids by Charles Darwin in 1868. Following the rediscovery of Mendel’s work in 1900, graft hybridization was used to demonstrate that heredity was more complex than Mendelians believed. The graft hybrid later became a matter of intense intellectual and ideological scrutiny during the Cold War, while recent discoveries that grafted plants can exchange genetic material has revitalised Marxist interpretations of biology and the advocates of genetically modified crops alike.
For much of the twentieth century the graft hybrid posed a viable challenge to the dominance of Mendelian genetics. ARTEFACT-Hybrid uses this counterfactual history to ask why certain historical paths are taken and how we became set on these paths. The project also examines the creation and distribution of different systems of knowledge. Who was best placed to speak with authority on the existence of graft hybrids? Was it horticulturalists and breeders with their tacit knowledge? Or biologists, supported by the new sciences of physiology and genetics? This division is revelatory of the social turmoil and contingency from which emerged some of our most cherished forms of knowledge.
ARTEFACT-Hybrid is part of the ERC-funded ARTEFACT Project.
The Epistemics of Solidarity: ARTEFACT-SOLIDARITY investigates Imaginaries of the Global in Solidarity across Difference
Global solidarity is in crisis. Not only have the “globalists” been viciously attacked by right-wing politicians in the OECD-world, the traditional “receivers” of solidarity in the Global South have increasingly highlighted the dependencies created in the project of global solidarity. In the aftermath of the postcolonial critique of development, progress and paternalism, one could get the impression that the “claim to the global” is itself problematic. Solidarity movements have therefore tended to localize, both geographically and in substance. “Another world is possible” simply sounds too abstract and too detached from the life worlds of many.
How, then, is solidarity across difference possible? ARTEFACT-Solidarity investigates the ways in which solidarity politics across difference depend on and often fail due to their specific conceptions of “the global”: many attempts at solidarity have been delegitimized because of their expansionist and prescriptive impulses. Yet, the making-global of particular epistemic norms appears logically prior to render solidarity across difference meaningful – and to practice it accordingly. Hence, there is a strong connection between solidarity with “others” on the one hand, and the concept of the global and its generalizing, universalist attire on the other.
Building on these tensions, this project theorizes how practices of solidarity across difference are constituted by a specific imaginary of “the global”, and how new forms of world-making with their encompassing global imaginaries are constructed by these very practices. The four attempts of world-making that will be examined are:
- Liberal Post-War Internationalism in the Green Agriculatural Revolution
- Third Way Globalism: “Solidarist Internationalism” at the Bandung Conference
- Distancing the Self from the Global: Praising the Particular in Third Wave Feminism
- Appropriating the Global from Below: La Via Campesina’s Fight for Group Rights
The project traces the ways in which solidarity across difference is practiced and the imaginaries of the global that are mobilized in these diverse movements. The results shall illuminate how specific imaginaries of the global can underlie, fuel and destroy solidarity across difference.
ARTEFACT-Solidarity is part of the ERC-funded ARTEFACT project.