Troubling finance as usual
Finance has become interested in all things related to “the farm” as a production unit, but also in the pre-and e post-farm-gate stages of the agri-food chain. Although the turn towards farming as a financial asset seems to be a rather recent development, farming and finance have been deeply entangled for a long time. Finance and farming are not distant worlds. On the contrary, the development of modern finance is deeply connected to the world of farming. Agriculture as socially “produced nature” in many corners of the world cannot be thought of without taking the transformative, and often state-backed, powers of globalized financial relations into account. The production of settler-colonial agrarian landscapes in contemporary land rush frontiers such as Aotearoa New Zealand cannot be discussed without considering the far-flung financial networks that linked “the city” (metropoles such as London) and “the countryside”. The places where finance helped transform nature into landed property, people into (enslaved) labouring subjects, and animals into livestock were often “global countrysides”  from the very onset of colonial encounters. In these places, finance had its own ways of extracting surplus from farming. Often, this happened via the provision of state-backed or private credit. “Dashboard farming” started with the management of slave plantations in the Caribbean and the American South, where management and ownership of the farm became separated for the first time. Early stock exchanges, such as in Amsterdam, were also directly linked to trade in agriculture. Thus, the roots of modern finance have their origins in agricultural production.
However, as research featured on this website shows, we have seen the rise of new forms of capitalizing on agriculture (via the provision of equity) from the second half of the twentieth century onwards, dating back as far as the 1960s in the UK. Today’s financial power of new actors such as pension funds or other investors is unseen and co-constitutes a historical formation we could call “the global return society”. Other scholars have called this “asset manager capitalism” or “ownership society”.
(Ouma 2020: 4, 40-42)
 Woods, M (2007) Engaging the global countryside: globalization, hybridity and the reconstitution of rural place. Progress in Human Geography 31 (4): 485-507.
While the finance-farming nexus does have historical roots, however, new developments are shaping the context for contemporary agricultural investments, such as
To capture the historical formation constituted by these trends my research mobilizes the notion of a global return society, which is a socio-spatial formation in which the reproduction of the better-off people of the Global North (and, increasingly, the Global South) has become tied to the reproduction of finance capital, both “at home” and abroad. Institutional landscapes across a range of economic fields are an expression of the global return society. Farming has become one of them. It can be argued that the ‘global return society’ is the stage on which the assetization of farming has unfolded, and it remains the stage even for investments that claim to do good or green or both via an enhanced ESG agenda. Others have also highlighted the friction between ‘the global return society’ and the ambition to create greener and more just economies.
(Ouma 2020: 4f., 44)
The global return society has engendered specific global value relations in and beyond agriculture that are characterized as follows, and which need rethinking as part of an alternative finance agenda:
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