Tantalized Fruits: Assembling the Serendipitous Aftertastes of a Most Delicate Industry
Julie Guthman’s recent book Wilted: Pathogens, Chemicals, and the Fragile Future of the Strawberry Industry is a thought-provoking examination of the entangled natures of specific geographic, historic, economic, social, and material conditions that have led to the Californian strawberry industry becoming as fragile as the berry it produces. The research is empirically founded on primary data based on interviews with growers, workers, industry representatives, and scientists, and on secondary data pulled mainly from relevant historical, geographical, and anthropological research. To unfold the manifold forces and entities by which strawberry agriculture is made up, but not necessarily acknowledged, is key to the analytical and theoretical project of Guthman. Hence, she draws on contemporary scholarly works dealing with human and more-than-human analysis in general, while making good use of the concept of assemblage in particular. The argument that industry practitioners lack assemblage-thinking colors the analysis throughout, and it is significant in addressing everything from land-use to labor conditions alongside other aspects impacting the current-day becoming of the industry. Assemblage-thinking is identified as particularly useful in denoting the instrumental ways in which pathogens, in the name of agricultural science, are conceptualized and conversely harmfully and unproductively managed. The analytical framing is maintained as a productive perspective to understand how particular human and more-than-human actors and agencies relationally have contributed to contemporary challenges of low fruit quality, uncertain production yields, labor-shortage, and uncontrollable and costly pathogen outbreaks. According to Guthman, employing assemblage-thinking in practically approaching pathogens would considerably alter business-as-usual and bring about more aptly founded and lasting solutions.
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