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Reckoning the Rural: Racial Capitalism, the San Joaquin Valley, and the University of California

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“Reckoning the Rural: Racial Capitalism, the San Joaquin Valley, and the University of California” is an interdisciplinary study of the socioeconomic and political connections between California’s agricultural industry and the San Joaquin Valley from 1862 to the early 2000s. In telling this narrative, my dissertation focuses on a lesser known feature of these connections by examining the production of knowledge at public research universities—namely, the University of California system. Rather than peripheral to dynamics of race, my dissertation argues that the University of California system and California agribusiness more broadly are intricately linked to racial capitalism as can be evidenced by the effects of settler colonialism, farm consolidation, and mechanization in the region. By interrogating the relationship between the state, racial capitalist economics, and knowledge production, this dissertation attempts to demonstrate how the production of rural geographies have been central to California as a settler colony and to perpetuating racialized oppression against various communities since the mid-19th Century.

In order to tell this story, “Reckoning the Rural” begins in 1862 with the passage of the Morrill Land Grant Act. From there, it weaves together California state and national histories on through the early 2000s to think about the creation of agricultural rural areas in California, and the fate of one of the state’s most productive regions for agriculture in California—the San Joaquin Valley. While struggles over labor exploitation in the San Joaquin Valley are oftentimes remembered through figures and movements such as Cesar Chavez and the United Farmworkers, my dissertation attempts to give a longer account, or reckoning, of agriculture’s racially exploitative practices. It does this by focusing in on the University of California’s own history as an entangled player in settling the West, facilitating the consolidation of big agribusiness, and naturalizing the use of mechanization for agricultural harvesting—all projects that had produced and held detrimental effects for communities of color. In doing so, “Reckoning the Rural” argues that there was a co-constitutive relationship between the University of California and the white supremacist practices of agribusiness.

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This item is under embargo until September 14, 2024.