Dr. Oliveira presents at the Global Studies Colloquium, UC Santa Barbara

“A Global Ethnography of Chinese Investments in Brazilian Agribusiness”

Professor Gustavo de L. T. Oliveira, Department of Global and International Studies, UC Irvine

Thursday, February 20 at 12:30pm to 2:00pm

The Department of Global Studies’ Colloquium Series is a lecture and lunch series, which has been made possible by the generosity of the Orfalea Endowment for the Master’s Program in Global Studies.  The Colloquium Series strives to open and explore a wide range of interdisciplinary debates and their interaction and engagement with the global, hosting new guest speakers each quarter from UCSB and beyond.  The upcoming event will be hosted in the SSMS 2001 conference room in the Global Studies Department on Thursday, February 20th at 12:30pm. Please see below for the featured talk:

“A Global Ethnography of Chinese Investments in Brazilian Agribusiness”

In the aftermath of the global food price and financial crisis of 2008, Chinese investments in Brazilian agribusiness mushroomed and two narratives emerged: either these are new South-South flows that sustain economic growth and development despite the crisis in the global North; or they are essentially land grabs that deepen Brazil’s neocolonial dependency on its new primary trade partner. Both narratives, however, regard Chinese agro industrial capital as homogenous and oversimplify it as a “global force” that has “local impacts” in Brazil and beyond. Missing from the literature is attention to the specific actors who co-produce these business deals, a transnational class of agribusiness professionals who advance their own affluence and influence by assembling Chinese capital with Brazilian land, labor, and expertise. In order to properly examine these actors and their co-production of Brazil-China agro-industrial partnerships, I advance theories and methods of global studies that are especially useful for the multiscalar and multi-sited fieldwork this research requires, viz. global ethnography and theories of assemblage and transnational class formation. I triangulate data from government, media, and company reports, field site observations, and semi-structured interviews with the boosters, brokers, bureaucrats, and businessmen who assemble Chinese capital with Brazilian agribusiness, and situate this material in relation to similar data about the political ecological struggles unfolding at the sites of investment across Brazil. Thus, my research reveals (1) the forms of power and interest bring these investments into being, and (2) their effect upon the Brazilian territory, model of development, and environment. Ultimately, I argue we can distinguish between “Paper Tigers”, companies that were feared as powerful land grabbers and relied on Brazilian political contacts but largely failed to effectively establish themselves in Brazil, and “Dragon Heads”, companies that undertook global-level mergers and acquisitions to bypass the challenges of management and socio-ecological resistance. Shifting theoretical and methodological focus to the career interests and assemblage methods undertaken by transnational agribusiness professionals who plan, produce, and profit from these endeavors, my scholarship reveals Chinese investments in Brazilian agribusiness are not determined by institutional characteristics and international relations, but rather by the class and ecological contradictions that undergird transnational agribusiness in these new hubs of global capital.

Dr. Gustavo de L. T. Oliveira is assistant professor in the Department of Global and International Studies at UC Irvine. He obtained his PhD in geography from UC Berkeley, a postdoctoral fellowship in environmental studies at Swarthmore College, and was visiting assistant professor of economic geography at Peking University. His current book project examines Chinese investments in Brazilian agribusiness and infrastructure. His work has been published in Development and Change, Globalizations, the Journal of Latin American Geography, Journal of Peasant Studies, and Territory, Politics, Governance, among others. He co-edited (with Susanna Hecht) a special issue of the Journal of Peasant Studies that has been republished as a book Soy, Globalization, and Environmental Politics in South America (Routledge, 2018), and is co-editing special issues on “China’s Belt and Road Initiative: Views from the Ground” for the journal Political Geography and another on “New Insights on Land Grabs in the BRICS and Global South” for the journal Globalizations.
For more information about the Colloquium Series, please contact Professor Jan Nederveen Pieterse, Global Studies Colloquium Director:

 UCSB Social Sciences and Media Studies Building, SSMS Conference Room 2001 (2nd Floor)