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World-Scale Processes and Agro-Food Systems: Critique and Research Needs

Author(s): David Goodman

Source: Review of International Political Economy, Vol. 4, No. 4 (Winter, 1997), pp. 663-687
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International Political Economy.

PoliticalEconomy4:4 Winter1997:663-87
of International

World-scale processes and agro-food

systems: critique and research needs
David Goodman
Department of Environmental Studies, University of California, Santa Cruz

This article argues that concepts and empirical characterizationsof glob-
alizationand corporateorganizationdrawn from the internationalpolitical
economy literaturemust be interrogatedcriticallybefore being extended
to agro-food studies. A brief survey of this literaturereveals divergent
conceptualizationsof globalizationand conflictingviews of the state. For
greater clarity, an ideal-typical taxonomy of world-scale processes and
corporateorganizationalforms is proposed. It is suggested that contem-
poraryglobal restructuringrepresentsthe combinedyet uneven interaction
of concurrentworld-scale processes. This framework is used to discuss
the limitations of some recent analyses of the globalization of agro-food
systems and offer suggestions for future research.

International political economy; world-scale processes; globalization;
corporateorganization;agro-food systems.

There is growing recognition that critical agro-food studies have reached,
if not an impasse, then a crossroads, where different paths beckon. This
sense of uncertainty is strengthened by several recent contributions which
undermine confidence in theoretical perspectives previously thought to
provide promising organizational frameworks for the analysis of change
at a variety of scales in agro-food systems (Munton, 1992; Whatmore, 1994;
Goodman and Watts, 1994; Murdoch and Marsden, 1994; Lowe et al.,
1994). The perspectives being re-evaluated include regulation theory,
food regimes, Fordism/post-Fordism and related debates on the 'crisis'
of Fordism and transition to possible successor regimes. This revision-
ism, still incipient in agro-food studies, parallels the critical scrutiny
of these metatheoretical perspectives underway for several years now in
the industrial restructuring literature. A recent co-authored paper argues
? 1997 Routledge 0969-2290

that discussions of agro-food restructuring draw uncritically on this

literature and challenges recourse to regulation theory and the 'binary
histories' of the Fordist/post-Fordistperiodization of capitalist develop-
ment as the main theoretical frame of reference for understanding
the political economy of agrarianchange (Goodmanand Watts,1994).The
burden of the argumentis that these formulationsprovide an inadequate
conceptual architecturefor analyses of change in agro-food production
structuresand ruralsocio-spatialorganization.The empiricalambiguities,
interrogationsof centralconcepts, such as flexibility,and the strikinglack
of consensus found in the industrialrestructuringliteraturereinforcethis
This state of crisis and flux at the metatheoreticallevel, euphemisti-
cally termed 'theoretical plurality' by some authors (Dicken, 1994),
remains, rather disturbingly, as the background to the present article,
which takes the globalization of agro-food systems as its principal
focus. As in the earlier paper on regulationist metanarratives and
epochal shifts (Goodman and Watts, 1994), a constant theme is that
concepts and empirical generalizations borrowed from analyses of
globalization of manufacturing and services require careful scrutiny
before being extended to agro-food systems. In this vein, we begin with
a brief survey of some recent analyses of globalization in interna-
tional political economy and related literatures.Although selective, this
review yields different concepts of globalization (section I) and diver-
gent views of the state (section II), suggesting that how we locate or
'fit' agro-food systems into this problematic is very much at issue. In
section III, we assess some recent attempts to characterizeand explain
the globalization of agro-food systems and offer suggestions for future

Forays into the literatureson internationalpolitical economy, industrial
innovation and corporate organization reveal wide disagreement,
as well as inconsistencies, in the analysis of internationalization,its
meaning, significance and empirical referents, as we see below. In the
agro-food literature, however, world-scale processes have not been
interrogatedat all closely. Globalization, for example, is contextualized
in terms of worldwide economic integration and the triumphalist
hegemony of neoliberal free market institutions and ideas; at the level
of corporateorganization,it is identified with the greaterlocational flex-
ibility of capital and, most particularly,the outsourcing of production.
Globalization frequently is associated temporally with the 'crises of
Fordism' and represents, it is argued, a paradigm shift in the structure

and organization of world economic activity and spatial divisions of

labor. Nevertheless, agro-food studies has not followed the industrial
restructuringliteratureand the 'new regional geography' in vigorously
contesting the nature of the putative post-Fordist transition (Pollert,
1988; Sayer, 1989; Storper, 1992; Storper and Scott, 1992; Hirst and
Zeitlin, 1991; Amin, 1994; Amin and Thrift, 1994). Rather,interest has
polarized around issues of structure and agency as critics have chal-
lenged allegedly totalizing conceptualizations and 'hyper-structuralist'
accounts of globalization and restructuring in agro-food systems
(Whatrnore,1994; Whatmore and Thorne, 1997; Gouveia, 1997). Such
accounts, it is argued, involve the erasure of agency, reification of the
economic sphere, and neglect of the uneven, spatially differentiated
impacts of globalization.
In refocusing attention on the empirical problematicof globalization,
this article supports a more nuanced approach to the interna-
tionalization of capital. Internationaleconomic integration and global
restructuring are conceptualized and empirically represented as the
dynamic conjunctureof several world-scale processes of capitalistaccu-
mulation and competition - internationalization,multinationalization,
transnationalization,globalization- that operate concurrentlyyet differ-
entially in the world economy (Gordon and Boronat, 1993; Group of
Lisbon, 1993;UNCTAD-PTC,1993).
Although not pursued here, the premise of concurrent interactive
world-scale processes invites analysis of socio-spatial difference. At
a given spatial scale, the relative intensity or weight of these concur-
rent processes will vary, and hence the nature of territorialresponses,
mediation and adjustment. Uneven, differentiated global-local rela-
tionships draw analytical attention, in turn, to questions of contin-
gency, institutionalembeddedness, social norms and agency in shaping
emergent production structures.Such questions challenge 'a peculiarly
modernist geographical imagination that casts globalization as a colo-
nization of surfaces which, like a spreading ink stain, progressively
colours every spot on the map' (Whatmore and Thorne, 1997: 1).
An historical perspective on world-scale processes similarly would
emphasize the spatial unevenness of 'rounds' of restructuring,adjust-
ment and 'institutionalabsorption' following in the wake of capitalist
We have suggested that internationalization, multinationalization
and globalization are more appropriately represented as concurrent
processes. In the international political economy literature, however,
either these processes are conflated and labeled 'globalization'and/or
it is regarded as a distinctive category, which has superseded interna-
tionalization and multinationalization.A further source of confusion
occurs in sectoral analyses when the focus is on forms of competition

and corporateorganization,as some contributorsdo recognize that these

three categories overlap and coexist.
Several recent attempts to clarify these concepts are reviewed briefly
below. These preliminary taxonomic exercises usually observe that
internationalization,as a centuries-old process of exchange, refers to
cross-nationalflows between economic actors located in different coun-
tries (Dicken, 1992;Group of Lisbon, 1993;Gordon and Boronat, 1993).
In the contemporary period, internationalizationis identified with the
rapid expansion of international trade in the post-Second World War
'golden age', outstripping GDP growth and accentuating economic
specialization and interdependence.For the Group of Lisbon (1993),the
'inter-nationalization'of economy and society involves national actors,
and the process of internationalcompetitionis based on enterprisesfrom
the different national economies.
These initial taxonomies thus have an element of periodization and,
though some authorsstress the concurrenceof these processes and forns
of competition, a strong sense of progression is built into these frame-
works. Thus Dicken (1992:1), for example, argues that the globalization
of economic activity is a more recent and qualitativelydifferentphenom-
enon, representing 'a more advanced and complex form of integration
between internationallydispersed economic activities'. The dimensions
of concurrence,difference and progression between internationalization,
multinationalizationand globalization also emerge in the statement by
Gordon and Boronat(1993:4) that these processes 'though they proceed
simultaneously and intersect with one another, follow quite specific and
independent logics'. For these authors, the logics underlying this three-
fold conceptual distinction are those of exchange, production and
innovation, respectively.2
The common thread linking these perspectives on multinationaliza-
tion and globalization, and the unifying dynamic in their temporal
progression, is represented by the changing bases, forms and scales of
competition. In the contemporaryperiod, for example, globalizationcan
be attributedto competitive responses to advances in informationtech-
nologies, technologicalconvergence, the liberalizationof investment and
trade regimes, and the formation of regional economic blocs. However,
the imperatives for economic and organizational restructuringarising
from these developments are felt differentially across economic sectors
and territorialspace. The evolution of capitalist competition thus is a
source of dynamism and change in world-scale processes but change is
endogenous and incremental, emerging from antecedent forms and
structuresin complex, temporally and spatially, uneven patterns. From
this perspective, contemporaryglobal restructuringis characterizedby
the combined but uneven interactionof concurrentworld-scale processes
rather than transition,paradigm shifts or transcendence.

Returning to taxonomic issues, there is wide agreement that

multinationalizationis distinguished from internationalizationby the
coordination of cross-nationaleconomic activitiesby nationalcorporations
(Gordon and Boronat, 1993). These firms, responding to competitive
pressuresin home and overseas markets,adopted a production-oriented
'multidomestic' strategy (Porter, 1986) in their international activities,
which left their foreign branches and subsidiaries with considerable
autonomy. This process is associated with the greater spatial mobility
of resources, especially of capital via foreign direct investment (FDI),
which gained momentum once west European countries had achieved
full currency convertibility in the late 1950s. For Dicken (1992: 144)
'the essence of a multidomestic or nationally responsive strategy is
an internationalnetwork of commonly owned, but quasi-independent,
operations.Eachof these is responsive to the characteristicsof individual
national markets.'
Disagreement emerges as we move from multinationalization to
globalization, with some authors suggesting that transnationalization
represents an intermediate step (Gordon and Boronat, 1993), whereas
others appear to equate this with multinationalization (The Group
of Lisbon, 1993: 74) or with globalization (Dicken, 1992). In Gordon
and Boronat's view, transnationalizationmarks a further qualitative
change, stimulated by new technologies of space-time compression,
rising FDI flows and intensified oligopolistic competition,which 'mani-
fests itself in a world-wide intra-firmdivision of labor' (1993:7, original
emphasis). International intra-firm sourcing is exemplified by the
concept of the 'world car' but Gordon and Boronat argue that 'in
the final analysis, transnational networks are coordinated essentially
as self-contained intra-firmprojects of enterprises that, however exten-
sive their global reach, are still resolutely national in character'(1993:
8, original emphasis). This assertion anticipates another unresolved
question in this literature:that is, the changing nature of territoriality
and how it is configuredby these concurrentbut spatially differentiated
Globalization,again defined in terms of corporatestrategic response
to new competitive conditions, is represented for Gordon and Boronat
(1993)by cooperativeinter-firmnetworks of innovation and production
organized in multiple locations. The logic of innovation, particularlyin
the sectorsgeneratingnew core or generic technologiesand experiencing
rapid technological convergence, is the driving force behind these co-
operative networks and alliances between independent firms. These
non-market networks of inter-firm collaborationand coordination are
representedby Gordon (1994) as a response to the structurallimits of
vertical integration,and notably centralizedin-house R&D. Such global
networks mark the rising salience of the logic of innovation both in the

socio-organizational model of industrial firms and emerging forms

of spatial interactionbetween regional production systems. These new
forms of collaborative competition take their place alongside more
traditionalstrategiesbased on the exploitationof global scale economies,
organizational efficiencies and proprietary technologies (Gordon and
Boronat, 1993;Petrella, 1989).
In contrast,though still at the level of corporateorganization,Dicken
(1992) identifies globalization with the shift from multidomestic strat-
egies to 'globally integrated competitive strategies' involving intra-firm
sourcing and exploitationof economies of scope and coordination.While
noting the expansion of inter-firmR&D networks, the logic of produc-
tion clearly is central to this conceptualization, with its emphasis on
global intra-firm divisions of labor and the centralized internal co-
ordination of many specialized, spatially dispersed, production sites
by transnational corporations. However, Dicken warns against the
dangers of simplistic polar opposites, arguing that 'The intensification
of global competition in a world which still retains a high degree of
local differentiation creates, for all TNCs, an internal tensionbetween
globalization forces on the one hand and localizationforces on the other'
(Dicken, 1992: 144).
The report, The Limitsto Competition,by the Group of Lisbon (1993)
provides an opportune transition from globalization as corporate
strategy to consideration of its wider implications for the directions of
change in the world economy. Certainlythe report recognizes the signif-
icance of inter-firmstrategic alliances, the problematic 'territoriality'of
global firms and inter-firmnetworks, and 'the complex interactionsand
the dual character - global and local - operating within the same ...
process' (Group of Lisbon, 1993: 78). Overall, however, globalization is
conceptualized as the ensembleof processes collectively constitutive of
the new global phenomena observable, for example, in financial and
equity markets, science and R&D networks, market structures, corpo-
rate organization, lifestyles, consumption patterns and culture, and
regulatory capacities and governance.
This review of different perspectives on globalization helps to
identify the constitutive processes, their organizational logics and
spatial dynamics, whose combined interaction engenders interna-
tional economic integration. This taxonomic effort is an essential first
step in the analysis of global economic change as the expression of
constituent processes that intersect, coexist and coevolve - a dynamic
evolutionary synthesis. As a corollary, the morphology of increasing
global interdependence exhibits far more complexity and diversity
than is implied by analyses that conflate globalization with, say,
post-Fordism. This complexity arises, moreover, not only from
concurrencebut from the variety of ways in which internationalization

processes intersect and combine unevenly across space and economic

In very broad terms, we have indicated the historical dimension to
each process and suggested that these represent, in an ideal-typical
sense, distinctive models of corporateorganization and divergent inter-
national political economies of production and spatial structure.
However, the vital conceptual point to grasp is that new forms and
mechanisms of global competitive organization are overlaid on concur-
rent, existing processes to produce interactive yet variously differ-
entiated outcomes. This interactive concurrence can be observed, for
example, in the organizationaldifferences of firms in the same sector,
or even within the individual firm, as in the case of transnationalcorpo-
rations which centrally coordinate a global intra-firmdivision of labor
and also participatein global inter-firmR&D networks.
A second observation concerns the heuristic of a 'dominant logic' -
of exchange, production or innovation - since, in practice, these are
actively and inseparably intertwined in each process (Gordon, 1994).
However, by focusing attention on how these logics are reorderedin
response to the changing bases and forms of global competition, this
approach provides the analytical means to distinguish the dynamics
specific to the constitutive processes of world economic change.3In prin-
ciple, we can identify, historically and currently, the ensemble of
processes operating at different world economic conjuncturesand their
integration at different spatio-economicscales. A preliminary typology
of these processes is presented in Table 1.
The Inerit of this perspective is that it goes beyond descriptive
characterizationto offer analytical purchase on the global economic.
Since the processes identified in Table 1 are all world economic in scale
and global in dimension, the conflation of contemporary economic
change in a catch-all category labeled globalization is inadequate and
misleading. This collapses distinctions that offer conceptual clarifica-
tion and empirical refinement of the dynamics and contradictory
forces at work in this transformation.The perspective proposed here
also exposes the limitations of representationsof globalization as the
consumimatedtransition to a new era of world economy, displacing
earlierforms of competition,spatial organizationand internationalpolit-
ical economy. The world economy is being restructured but the
hypothesis of transition must be heavily qualified, whether in relation
to processes that are world economic in scale or to spatial processes
and hierarchies. On the latter point, the challenge is to identify how
new articulationsand mediations between locality, region, nation-state
and world economy are reconfiguringsocio-spatial organization rather
than to erase the question of spatial scale by subsuming it hierarchically
under the global.
Table 1 Concurrent processes of world-economic integration: a preliminary typology*

Process Internationalization Multinationalization Transnat

Dominant logic Exchange. Production. Production
Economic Market over hierarchy. Hierarchy. Hierarchy.
governance and National corporations and Central coordination and Centrally c
corporate 'champions'. ownership of relatively integrate
organizational autonomous overseas producti
form affiliates.

'Multi domestic' strategy.

Centralized investment,
production and marketing.
Spatial dynamic National production Access to raw materials: Global intr
systems in an plantations, mining, energy. of labor.
expanding international Commodity traders. 'Footloo
trading system. - decisions
- - - - - - - - - - - - - Export substitution production, internal
Rising significance of for innovation rents. Homogeniz
intra-industry trade. -- -----------
Triadization of trade, FDI Intra-firm sourcing.
and financial flows. Acceleration of FDI.
Diagnostic features -- ----------- Standardiz
'Golden Age' growth of inter International oligopolistic mass cus
national trade. competition. variants.
Securitization. Globally Product-cycle diffusion of in-house 'Global com
integrated financial markets. R&D via standardized mass ---
Time/space compression. production. Domiunan
-- - - - - - - - - - - - Low cross-border integration of trade.
Increasing separation of production.
financial markets and real -- -----------
production sphere. Intensified global competition:
merger wave.
FDI concentrated in triad and
East Asian NICs.
Truncated globalization.
Source: Based on Gordon (1994).
Notes: 'Broken lines are used to indicate the reconfigurationand mutationof processes.


In the recent report of the Group of Lisbon (1993),the analysis of corpo-
rate logic and strategyalong the lines of Table 1 serves a largerpurpose:
that is, to draw attentionto the implicationsof specific patternsof corpo-
rate reorganizationfor the future direction of the 'global world', and it
is to these that we now tum. If the ideology of competition continues
to dominate public and private choices, informing governance of the
'global world,' then the Group of Lisbon (1993) predicts that the form
of globalization most likely to predominate will be triadization.That is,
intensified competition on a global scale will accentuate the powerful
tendencies towards greater economic, technological and socio-cultural
integration in the triad of North America, western Europe and South-
East Asia (Japanand the Asian NICs), and progressively exclude poorer
societies. This scenario combines the renewed prominence of region-
alism - the European Union, NAFTA, APEC - with the increasing
concentrationof internationalproduction, FDI, inter-firmstrategic tech-
nology agreements,and trade flows in the triadic countries. This global
regionalism of continental trade blocs or 'triadization'is premised on
centrifugal forces that exacerbatefragmentationand exclusion, leading
to the delinking of the triad from the rest of the world - a form of 'trun-
cated globalization'.
Although several emerging fault lines are identified, the Group
of Lisbon regards 'the competitive techno-economic war for global
leadership' as 'the strongest driving force and dividing line of world
development and politics for the next 15-20 years' (1993:48). Among
the various casualties of this struggle, particular emphasis is given
to the decline of the national market and its replacement 'as the most
strategic economicspace by the nascent global space', undermining 'one
of the basic foundations of the nation-state' (1993: 21). The decline of
the national economy and nation-state is carefully qualified, but the
Group of Lisbon is emphatic that 'national capitalism has ceased to be
the only coherent form of capital' and looks forward to 'A new epoch,
the historyof globalcapitalism'(1993:22, original emphasis).
In response to these emerging circumstances, nation-states and
corporations form 'a new dynamic alliance', in which 'the state is not
being led. It is still active - indeed increasingly active on the world
technological and economic scenes. But neither does it act as a leader'
(1993:87). The crux of this approach is the argument that 'local' states
act to support 'local' multinationals since, as the key strategic actors
'governing' the world economy, their success at this level 'is a pre-
requisite for the achievement and preservation of the country's
technological and economic autonomy (1993:87), which contributedto

the state's legitimacy. Conversely, 'Enterprisesare no longer "private"

actors in opposition to, and prevailing over, the state' (1993:87). At least
in the triadic countries, it is asserted that 'the enterprises need "local"
(national) states in order to cope with globalization and globalize
themselves' (1993: 92). However, it is suggested that this new pact,
underpinned by massive public resource transfers, effectively confers
social legitimacy on the enterprises and, 'in the absenceof a worldpublic
governance,it privatizesthe functionof organizingand governingthe world
economy'(1993:93, original emphasis).
Although the Group of Lisbon's analysis has, in broad outline, consid-
erable resonance in the literature, some dissenting voices have been
raised. Hirst and Thompson, for example, interrogate the notion of
'globalization'as a 'qualitativelynew stage in the development of inter-
national capitalism' and conclude that this is not supported by 'the
present configurationof internationaleconomic tendencies' (1992:358).
Briefly, they suggest that many of these trends are contingent; that the
multinational corporate form remains dominant, rather than global
organizations without specific national identity,4 and that the 'most
significant post-1970s development, and the most enduring, is the
formation of supra-national trading and economic blocs' (1992: 369).
Contending that the liberal multilateralism of the post-Second World
War golden age is 'on the defensive', Hirst and Thompson argue that
the more likely form of the world economy is not 'globalization' but
'the further development of a newly regionalized international econ-
omy, possibly dominated by the trilateralismof the US/NAFTA, the
(expanded) EC, and Japan (with or without possible Pacific Rim allies).
This itself will also involve an increase in bilateral negotiation between
these major players and other lesser parties' (1992: 369-70). There are
close parallels here with the 'truncatedglobalization' scenario proposed
by the Group of Lisbon (1993).
As an important corollary of their position, Hirst and Thompson
emphaticallyrejectthe view that 'nationalmacro-economicmanagement
has ceased to provide a viable means of steering national economies in
an internationalizedsystem and that the nation state has lost its salience
in the face of "globalization"' (1992: 371). Thus, although some tradi-
tional national economic regulatory mechanisms have been weakened,
notably Keynesian and monetarist demand management, the contribu-
tion of other state functions to national economic performance,
including supply-side policies, maintaining social consensus and coali-
tion building, has been enhanced.5Hirst and Thompson are not sanguine
about the prospects for greater international coordination or 'a more
regulated international economic environment', suggesting that these
founder on the divergent interests of the three major trading blocs and
nation-states, which 'remain the dominant players' (1992: 375). Their

overall conclusion is that 'globalization'has heuristicvalue 'as a negative

ideal-type that enables us to assess the shifting balance between inter-
national economic pressures and international economic regulation
and national and bloc level economic management. We do not have a
fully globalized economy, we do have an international economy and
national policy responses to it' (Hirst and Thompson, 1992:394).
This brief discussion reminds us of the complexities and subtleties of
the relationshipsengendered by recent processes of internationalization.
These are occluded by the conflated categories of 'core-periphery'
models or wage-centeredNew InternationalDivision of Laborperspec-
tives (Schoenberger,1989). The taxonomies of internationalizationnow
emerging in several related literatureshelp to correct this erasure and
to focus analytical questions more precisely. By distinguishing between
different world-scale processes, we are obliged to confront a more
complex and messy set of methodological issues associated with their
simultaneity and spatial unevenness. To repeat an earlier point, socio-
institutionalstructuresand relationswill vary acrossa given spatial scale
due not only to historically contingent development but also because
these concurrent processes do not operate with equal intensity in all
territorialspaces at that scale. 'Truncatedglobalization' illustrates how
modalities of insertion may vary both by process and spatially.
Concurrent yet uneven internationalizationprocesses raise further
questions concerningthe range of variation in productive forms and insti-
tutional frameworks that can be accommodated by, say, globalization,
and howrthis is determined.This question so far has been examined only
partiallyin the various literatures,with most attentionbeing devoted to
the reco:nfigurationof the nation-stateand changes in corporateorgani-
zation observed in certain sectors due to the globalization of financial
markets and technological innovation. A more comprehensive answer
probablylies in the changingbases, forms and hierarchiesof competition
but only a few contributors have begun to venture down this road
(Jessopet al., 1993).In the meantime,case studies of 'the motley diversity
of political regimes' (Jessop et al., 1993: 238) and state forms, such as
those enmergingfrom analyses of South-EastAsia and Latin America,for
example, are suggestive (Evans, 1987;Wade, 1990;Arce and Marsden,
1993). The range of variation in corporate organization and behavior,
including differences across territorialspace and sector of activity (cf.
Carnoy, 1993), and its determinantsalso require furtherinvestigation.


The preceding sections underline the importance of interrogating
conceptsand empiricalgeneralizationsthatin some quartersare regarded
as self-evident and unproblematic.This work of conceptual refinement

has been a marked featureof the vigorous debates in the economic geog-
raphy literatureon changing models of industrial accumulation,innova-
tion and spatial restructuring.6Apart from very recent reassessments of
Fordism/post-Fordism,the criticalrevisionist tenor of this literaturehas
had relatively limited influence on agro-food studies. One result of this
neglect, we suggest, is that concepts and empirical generalizationshave
slipped into the lexicon of agro-food studies without due criticalreflec-
tion. Globalization is very much a case in point, and it needs to be
'unpacked'and assessed against alternativeperspectives.
This articlehas argued that differentworld-scale processes and corpo-
rate organizationalforms intersectand coexist in the new 'global world'.
Ideal-types of these processes, corporate forms and associated interna-
tional political economies of production were described in Table 1.
In conjunction with the premise of interactive concurrence, these
ideal-typical characteristicsprovide several analytical points of entry
for attempts to locate agro-food systems and 'representative'firms in
world-scale processes. Although not examined here in detail, the frame-
work of interactive world-scale processes rejects globalization as a
uni-dimensional 'colonization of surfaces' in favor of an emphasis on
socio-spatial difference, which is empirically corroboratedby contem-
porary regional and industry studies of agro-food restructuring
(Goodman and Watts, 1997).More pertinently for present purposes, this
framework does not propose a linear, stage-like schema in which
common organizational forms and practices are uniformly adopted in
all sectors of activity. Thus, vanguard developments in corporatereor-
ganization, however indicative of the future structure of leading
industrial and service sectors of the world economy, may have little
or no direct relevance for agro-food systems. At the sectoral level,
rather than affix a common or generic label, the analytical challenge is
to establish how these systems 'fit' world-scale processes.
As a first step, this section examines recent studies of FDI, restruc-
turing and world-scale processes in agro-food systems. In fact, and
perhaps surprisingly,there are two literatures,methodologicallydivided
between, first, conventional industrial organization approaches to FDI
and, second, international production and a more eclectic political
economy tradition; their findings are rarely integrated in discussions
of internationalization.The former are theoretically grounded in indus-
trial economics and typically extend the structure-conduct-performance
framework of cross-industry comparative analysis pioneered by Bain
and others to evaluate the impacts of FDI in host countries. As we will
see, industrial organization studies suggest that the multinational
form of corporateorganizationnoted in Table 1 characterizesFDI in off-
farm agro-food sectors. The political economy tradition in agro-food
studies, by contrast, is less directly concerned with FDI and corporate

organization and focuses instead on the social relations of production,

institutional and technological change, and other systemic dimensions
of internationalization and restructuring in agriculture, commodity
processing, distribution and trade.
The industrial organizationapproachin some measure has influenced
virtually all studies of food industry FDI undertaken since the early
1970s, irrespective of whether the main focus is the cross-penetration
of markets in the leading industrial economies (OECD, 1979; Handy
and MacDonald, 1989) or FDI in developing countries (UNCTC, 1981;
Whiting, 1985; Rama, 1992). The UNCTC study, for example, states
bluntly that 'The underlying framework ... is that common to most
industrial-organizationanalysis', adding that it 'focuses on the two
major influences which most affect the strategies and behavior of
transnationalcorporations and others involved in developing country
food-processing industries: the competitive structure of the industry
at the global and national levels, and government policies which affect
the sector' (1981:2).
More recently, Rama (1992) has also emphasized that competition in
the food and drink industry 'has been played out on a world stage'.
However, this stage has become more confined in the 1980s as food
industry FDI has closely replicated the geographical patterns of total
FDI, notably its acceleratingconcentrationin the OECD region as the
result of the growth of cross-investments.The reasons for this regional
concentration in the multinationalization of food-processing firms,
according to Rama, 'is very simple: consumers in these countries can
afford highly processed and differentiated foods' (1992: 23). An addi-
tional factor noted by Rama is the relative homogeneity of OECD
markets, with the result that 'Cultural factors, which affect eating
patterns, have reinforced economic reasons for investing, especially in
Western Europe and the United States' (1992:23).
Handy and MacDonald,based on a 1987sample of US food-processing
firms, offer further support for this view, observing that direct invest-
ment as a mode of foreign entry 'seems to be most important for large
firms such as Coca-Cola,CPC International,RJRNabisco, Kraft,Heinz,
and General Foods (noncoffee brands) that sell a diversified range of
branded consumer products through retail outlets' (1989: 1252). By
contrast, 'Exports are concentrated in firms such as Archer Daniel
Midland, Iowa Beef Processors,Conagra, Riceland Foods, and General
Foods (coffee) whose products are relatively homogeneous and subject
to an initial stage of processing: meats, oils, rice, flour, and coffee'
(1989: 1252).
These studies reveal some interesting differences between food and
non-food multinationalfirms, including the important observation that
'the food and drink industry is perhaps a multidomestic rather than a

global industry in which MNCs integrate all their activities on a world-

wide basis. The competitive outcome for a food and drink multinational
has been mostly determined by conditions in each country. With some
exceptions, food multinationals are oriented towards domestic rather
than export markets' (Rama, 1992:21).
The strong multi-domestic orientation and correspondingly lower
significance of intra-firmtrade is confirmed by Handy and MacDonald
(1989) using data for various years from the BenchmarkSurvey of US
direct investment abroad undertaken by the US Bureau of Economic
Analysis (BEA),Departmentof Commerce.The BEA data for 1986 reveal
that non-food US multinational manufacturing firms direct 36 percent
of their exports to foreign affiliates and the latter account for 56 per-
cent of their US parents' imports. 'But food manufacturersmaintain far
weaker trade links with their own affiliates;food manufacturingparents
direct only 16 percent of their $4.49 billion in exports to foreign affili-
ates, and their affiliates provide only 21 percent of the $3.15 billion in
food parent imports' (Handy and MacDonald, 1989: 1248). The authors
conclude that 'Food manufacturers'affiliates focus on local sales.'
Moreover, the exceptions to this multi-domestic focus hardly portend
a new strategic trend in food-processing FDI since they comprise semi-
processed tropical beverages and Japanese food multinationals (Rama,
1992). These firms currently are more likely to invest in resource-rich
countries as a way to supply the Japanese market, a strategy that 'thus
resembles that of British and US firms during the nineteenth century
and the first decades of this century' (Rama, 1992: 31).
Turning now to studies in the political economy tradition, we have
taken the editor's introduction and selected chapters from three collec-
tions published in 1994 as being broadly representative of current
thinking in this field (Bonannoet al., 1994;McMichael,1994a;and Lowe
et al., 1994), although most attentionis given to the first of these. In geo-
economic and geopolitical terms, the perspectives on globalization
presented in these three volumes share much common ground. All have
a strong conjuncturaldimension, reflecting a shared perception of new
temporal and spatial dynamics shaped by a common set of constitutive
trends. These elements, simultaneously causative and symptomatic,
variously include new technologies of space/time compression, accel-
erated capital mobility, global financialintegration,worldwide sourcing
by transnationalcorporations,and the internationalizationof consump-
tion patterns. Thus, Bonanno et al. (1994) represent globalization as the
combined interaction of these trends, which has engendered a new
internationaldivision of labor.7Qualitatively, the distinguishing feature
of this new political economy is the demotion of 'the nation-stateas the
defining space for economic activity and, more precisely, capital accu-
mulation.... The central defining element behind this configuration

of new capital accumulation spaces is the transnational corporation'

McMichael(1994a,1994b)shares this emphasis on conjuncturalsocio-
spatial and institutional restructuring,identifying globalization as 'the
key dynamic' of global transition following the demise of the Bretton
Woods system in the 1970s. In addition, however, he attributes
immanent qualities to globalizationand proposes that the late twentieth-
century form be specified and compared with its antecedent or 'prior
forms in precedingcenturies'(McMichael,1994b:278). By contrast,Lowe
et al. urge that globalizationbe treatedas a contingentempiricalcategory
and not as a metatheoreticalconstruct or heuristic framework on the
grounds that to do so 'risks a failure to understand globalization as a
dynamic, uneven and contested process' (1994: 11). Although not
explored here, these methodological differences support conflicting
agendas for future researchon the globalization of food systems. These
tensions are clearly discernible in the cautionary view expressed by
Lowe et al. that the constitutive processes of globalization 'undoubtedly
represent powerful trends, but they are not ineluctable' (1994:11). As a
counter-example,they observe that in some west European agro-food
systems these trends 'have helped to consolidate nationallybased forms
of regulation' (1994:11).
None of the edited volumes under discussion approachesglobalization
as the dynamic synthesis of concurrentworld-scale processes incorpo-
ratingdifferentforms of industrialorganizationand presentingdivergent
production structuresand spatial dynamics. There is no recognition,in
short, of the analytical significance of the dimensions noted earlier of
difference, concurrence and progression between internationalization,
multinationalization,transnationalizationand globalization.This confla-
tion of world-scale processes creates serious difficulties when empirical
categories from the literatureon industrial restructuringand globaliza-
tion, firmly rooted in the theories of international production, are
extended to the agro-food system. Indeed, as we observed earlier,there
is virtually no acknowledgment of the theoreticalcontent of debates in
this wider, well-established literature,which gave rise to the categories
now applied so routinely in agro-food studies. With these general com-
ments, we turn to the treatmentof internationalsourcing and corporate
organization,focusing mainly on papers in Bonannoet al. (1994).
The editors of these volumes all regard sourcing as strongly sympto-
matic, if not the definitive expression, of the globalization of agro-
food systems. Yet to what extent do these arrangements correspond
to their counterpartin manufacturingindustry? Bonanno et al. (1994)
base their characterizationof globalization and the development of a
new internationaldivision of labor mainly on their understanding of
corporateproduction and locational strategies in automobiles, clothing

and microelectronics.Referencesto Honda, Ford, Benetton and IBMare

used to exemplify such practicesas global component sourcing and final
product assembly, flexible mass production, and mass customization to
supply differentiatedmarkets.The implicit assumption is that this intro-
ductory, industry-based analysis is relevant to agro-food sectors. That
is, it describes the general context, such as conditions of competition,
which determines an equivalent or, at least, an analogous, globalization
of agro-food systems.
Bonanno et al. not only fail to defend this proposition, but immedi-
ately cast doubt on its relevance with the admission that the productive
organization of food commodities - chickens, orange juice and kiwifruit
are taken as examples - 'is much simpler than the automotive system'
(1994: 10). The authors also enter caveats about the globalization
of chickens and reconstituted orange juice but 'Kiwifruit, in contrast,
manifests true globalization' (1994: 10). This designation is merited,
apparently, simply by the observation that kiwifruit now is produced
'in dozens of locations for distribution in markets all over the Western
capitalist world' (1994: 10). What appears to be a straightforwardcase
of inter-nationalcompetition between independent, stand-alone produc-
tion locations is distinctively labeled here as 'a global productionsystem'
(1994: 10; original emphasis). However, the organization of kiwifruit
production,even with counter-seasonalmarketing,has few, if any, paral-
lels with the global intra-firmdivision of labor, which most authors
would regard as the hallmarkof the contemporarytransnationalization
of industrial production.
The association of globalization in agro-food sectors with world-scale
distributionemerges again in the same volume in the study of the fresh
fruit and vegetable (FFV) system (Friedland, 1994a). The characteriza-
tion of global 'refers to the fact that fresh produce is now moving
extensively between countries,regions, and continents, involving almost
every geographical region on earth except Antarctica'(1994a:212). In a
second paper on the FFVsystem, Friedlandsuggests that only the distri-
bution segment is 'truly transnationalized. The other two segments,
production and marketing, though showing a few tendencies toward
transnationalization,lean more to a localized, regional, or national char-
acter' (1994b: 178). Furthermore,there are no firms whose activities
integrate the three segments of this industry.
Designation of firms engaged in FFV distribution as being 'truly
transnationalized' rests on an extremely weak criterion, namely the
geographical dispersion of their commodity trading activities. The
substantive point here is that 'sourcing'as defined by this criterionbears
only the loosest analytical and empirical relation to the complex produc-
tion logistics and specific organizationalforms that this term conveys in
the literature on internationalmanufacturingand investment. In terms

of the typology presented in Table 1, the firms in international FFV

distribution appear to be national firms engaged in inter-national trade
or contemporary representatives of early multinational corporations that
emerged around the turn of the century, with interests in plantation
production, packing, distribution and commodity trading.8
The term 'sourcing' needs to be specified more clearly in agro-food
studies if it is to have conceptual significance as a criterion of transna-
tionalization. This would eliminate the false and misleading analogies
implicit in statements that the FFV industry is not 'as broadly trans-
nationalized as the automobile industry and others' (Friedland, 1994b:
186). The FFV industry patently is not characterized by a vertically inte-
grated transnational production system nor do member firms centrally
coordinate global intra-firm divisions of labor involving production-
based sourcing of intermediate components from specialized sites for
final assembly. The more pertinent research questions concern why the
FFV sector does not fit this industrial model of transnationalization and
the role of biological and other environmental factors that are likely to
inhibit the prospects of it doing so in the future.
The issue of fit re-emerges in the paper by Heffernan and Constance
(1994), who analyze the international activities of the diversified
conglomerates, such as Conagra and Cargill, which dominate grain
processing, meat packing and commodity trading in the US agro-food
system. With some rare exceptions in certain product lines,9 the inter-
national production sites of major US processing firms are integrated
with local supply sources and their output is directed to corporate
partners in designated overseas markets. These operations, often orga-
nized as joint ventures, would appear to represent a variant of the
multinational 'multi-domestic' strategy rather than production sourcing
within a centralized global intra-firm production system. Heffernan and
Constance (1994) give the example of a recent joint venture in Thailand,
where Cargill will use its expertise to establish vertically integrated
broiler production, and its partner, Nippon Meat Packers, will provide
access to the Japanese market. Similarly, Japanese conglomerates,
such as Mitsubishi and C. Itoh, import broilers for this market through
partners with vertically integrated production facilities in Brazil
(Perdigao) and Mexico (Tysons Foods), respectively (1994: 42-3).
These examples suggest that vertical integration in broiler production
typically occurs at the local or regional level rather than the global scale.
The joint ventures noted above represent what Reed and Marchant in
the same volume define as horizontal foreign direct investment, which
'involves a firm investing in the same type of processing in more than
one country' (1994: 151). Its converse is defined as foreign investment
in facilities engaged in separate stages of the same overall production
process. Cargill and Conagra both exercise market power in US and

international commodity sectors, but this emanates from the combina-

tion of multi-domestic production strategies in overseas markets and
commodity trading activities.
Such findings suggest that more penetrating research is needed to
establish why majorcommodity processors adopt multi-domesticstrate-
gies, and to identify the factorsthat impede progress toward the vertical
intra-firm integration of their production activities on a transnational
scale. In particular, is there a general explanation for the differences
in production organization between these leading food conglomerates
and their counterpartsin many sectors of manufacturingindustry? Are
differences attributableto organizationalconstraintsand corresponding
institutional specificities that arise from the biological and physiological
properties of agro-food production-consumption systems?'0 These are
significant and expressive omissions from analyses of the international-
ization of these systems.
The provocative work of Gouveia (1994) on the US livestock sector
points toward the more nuanced analysis of case-study material that is
needed to further our understanding of these general themes. In this
analysis, she takes issue with the view advanced by Sanderson (1986)
that the world livestock industry is a globalized, vertically integrated
sector. Using the notion of a 'world steer' as the counterpartof Ford's
'world car', this sector has been widely propagated as the paradigmatic
case of globalization in the agro-food system. Gouveia qualifies this
position, arguing that if globalization 'implies outsourcing of inputs
and transnationalintegrationof sub-sectors across geographicalbound-
aries', then 'as a definitive characterizationof today's entire industry,
Sanderson's assessment is premature' (1994: 130). This view, it may be
noted, runs counter to the introductory editorial analysis offered by
Bonanno et al. (1994).
In support of her position, Gouveia (1994) draws attention to the
divergent trajectories and 'multiplicity of strategies' that describe
the relations firms in this industry have developed with the global
economy. Thus Conagra and Cargill are 'active integratorsof feed and
livestock subsectorsacross nationalboundaries' (1994:131),whereas IBP,
Inc., 'arguably the world's largest processor of beef and pork' (1994:
127), confines its internationaloperations mainly to the export trade and
has avoided foreign direct investment. In this role, 'IBP is the largest
exporter of US meat and meat by-products, primarily for the Japanese
market' (1994: 130). Divergent forms of corporate organization thus
coexist and compete in this key sector of the agro-food system. As
Gouveia suggests, 'IBP's participation in the global economy seems
closest to the old mercantilist trading companies and the Swift-type
ventures [in Argentina]- minus the direct overseas investments of these
old multinationals' (1994:131). Such diversity needs to be more widely

recognized and explained, not conflated within an undifferentiated

process of globalization.
Gouveia's contributionis one of the few in this literature to broach
the question of possible constraintsor limits on the internationalintra-
industry integrationof production in agro-food systems. Examiningthe
effects of the North American Free Trade Area (NAFTA),she remarks
on the slow relocation of facilities to Mexico to source the potentially
cheaper supplies of labor and livestock, although these 'represent the
highest costs of production in the meatpacking industry' (1994: 134).
Gouveia attributesthis tardiness to 'limits to the globalization strategy
pursued by the US meatpacking industry', which 'are in part biophys-
ical' (1994:134), that is, due to the absence of a geographicalarea with
large concentrationsof cattle and adequate supplies of grain and water.
Industry representatives rule out the possibility of shipping feed
grains to Mexico as self-evidently uneconomic given the alternative of
importing processed meat (1994:234-5). In effect, the maquiladora model
of verticalintra-firmintegrationis problematicfor the livestock industry,
at least since the advent of NAFTA,"1due to highly locational specific
constraintson its spatial mobility.'2As Gouveia observes, 'intrasectoral
integrationacross national boundaries within the beef sector appears to
be more constrained by such physical barriers than, say, electronics
manufacturing'(1994:135). This kind of insight focuses attentionon the
specificity of agro-food sectors and the need to explore its analytical
implications in the context of world-scale processes. The literature on
the globalization of agro-food systems, mesmerized by parallels with
industry, has barely touched on this theme.

This discussion has identified new areas of investigation but we must
also rememberthat an extensive body of case-study materialis already
available in the agro-food and development literatures.One task there-
fore is to consolidate and review this material in the light of the new
internationalizationprocesses and changing patterns of competition.
For example, there is a rich vein of research on multinationalactivities
in past and current agricultural export sectors in Central America
(Williams, 1986;Murray and Hoppin, 1993; Conroy et al., 1994), but it
has yet to be established how far this experience is representative of
agro-food FDI in general. Further research on world-scale processes
would seek to situate these and other case studies within a compara-
tive regional analysis as part of a more comprehensiveinquiry into the
competitive behavior of agro-food multinationals.
The literatureon contractfarmingis a second richbut neglected source
on world-scale processes and corporate behavior, broadly defined to

include state and parastatalenterprises.Again, there is ample case-study

evidence for comparative analysis (Watts, 1994). This material poten-
tially offers further insights into how far parallels with industrial
organization can be stretched to portray patterns of internationalization
in different agro-food sectors. A related task, as intimated earlier, is to
integrate studies in the industrial organization tradition (Connor et al.,
1985) more closely with research on the internationalpolitical economy
of agro-food systems.
Following the lead of Jessop et al. (1993),we need to investigate how
current internationalizationprocesses in agro-food sectors are altering
forms of competition (market structure; the role of non-market inter-
firm relations) and the bases of competition (costs and prices; quality;
state subsidies, and other sources of rent; public sector externalities).13
For example, does the logic of exchange and thus cost and price criteria
still represent the main dimension of competition?Or, alternatively,are
changing constructionsof 'quality' arising from the growing politiciza-
tion of food along health-environmental axes bringing demand side
considerationsmore to the fore, and how is this change reordering the
logics of competitive behavior? A closely related question is whether
world-scale processes in agro-food are privileging certain forms of
corporateorganization(as defined in Table 1) and/or capitals.This may
arise from changes in the hierarchyof agro-food markets or commodity
filieres, as well as shifts in the relative importance of different capitals
within these markets. For example, is internationalization further
increasing the ascendancy of retail distribution capitals observed in
the national markets of certain OECD countries and, if so, what are the
This overview has indicated some lines of researchthat might fruitfully
be pursued to investigate the place of agro-food systems in world-scale
processes of economic and spatial integration. It has also touched on
some dimensions of the formidable challenge, and potential pitfalls, we
face in locating agro-food systems in the literatureof internationalpolit-
ical economy; all the more so if we continue to suppress the specificities
arising from the biological characteristicsof these systems in order to
accommodatemodels of industrial organizationand restructuring.

This article is dedicated to the memory of Richard Gordon, whose untimely
death robbed internationalpolitical economy of one of its most original contrib-
utors. The conceptual framework developed in this article draws heavily on
discussions with Richard Gordon, Paul Lubeck and Michel Perriardin 1993-4
at the UC SantaCruz Centerfor the Study of GlobalTransformations.A prelim-
inary version of this article was presented at the Conference on Restructuring
the Agro-Food System: Global Processes and National Responses, Centre for

Rural Research, University of Trondheim, Norway, on 2-4 May 1994. I am

grateful to Neil Ward and three anonymous referees for editorial suggestions.
The usual disclaimers apply.

1 This formulation is reminiscent of the formative processes underlying the

'regional social contracts' identified in US agriculture by FitzSimmons (1990),
and the geological metaphors of superimposed layers and strata deposited
as historical sediments that Massey (1984) uses to construct 'locality.' For a
recent discussion, see Marsden et al. (1993: 130-4).
2 Briefly, in the context of world-scale processes of capitalist competition, the
logic of exchange is governed by market-based relations between indepen-
dent economic agents engaged in cross-border transactions; the logic of
production responds to supply-side criteria determining the efficient coor-
dination of production and distribution in worldwide intra-firm divisions
of labor; the logic of innovation is oriented toward the institutionalization
of permanent process and product innovation, including non-market forms
of inter-firm collaboration.
3 A more comprehensive typology would represent the interactions between
world-scale processes of capitalist competition and state-based organiza-
tional change, both national and supra-national. In this respect, for example,
it would be helpful to distinguish state-based institutional movements that
complement and reinforce new forms of global competition from those that
seek to counter and attenuate the erosion of state power. Analysis of this
central dimension of world-scale processes is beyond the scope of the present
article, however.
4 Morales and Quandt support this view, contending that since 'few firms are
typically global in their operations.... The result is a diversity of strate-
gies' (1992: 463).
5 The significance of the strategic capacities and proactive efforts of nation-
states in determining the trajectory of nations and regional blocs is
reaffirmed, though from somewhat different standpoints, by Morales and
Quandt (1992), Carnoy (1993) and Jessop et al. (1993).
6 Different aspects of these debates are reviewed by Dicken (1994), Gertler
(1992) and Lovering (1990), among others.
7 The authors fail to note similarities with earlier formulations of the 'new
international division of labour' perspective and its supply-side, cost-
centered dynamic of international production, notably the work of Frobel et
al. (1980). These links are evident, for example, in the view that 'the driving
force of the TNC is its "bottom line" ', which compels them to 'move around
the globe seeking out new markets and new locations for production'
(Bonanno et al., 1994: 5). A telling consequence of this position is the failure
to address the increasing concentration and reciprocity of trade and FDI in
the countries and industries of the triad since the 1980s.
8 As Friedland (1994b) explains, this lineage is direct for three leading and
old-established firms - Chiquita, Dole and Del Monte Tropical - which have
extended their trading activities from their original base in banana produc-
tion and shipping. A fourth firm, Albert Fisher, rose to international
prominence in the 1980s by pursuing a vigorous acquisition strategy of
distribution firms located in key marketing areas in western Europe and
North America.
9 For example, Tyson Foods 'ships leg quarters from chickens grown in
the United States to Mexico for further processing for Japanese markets'
(Heffernan and Constance, 1994: 42).

10 For further discussion of the general analyticalimplications of these speci-
ficities, see Mann and Dickenson (1978);Mann (1990);Goodman et al. (1987);
and Fine et al. (1996).
11 On the volatile political economy of the frontierbeef cattle industry before
NAFTA, see Sanderson (1986, 1989).
12 For details of input sourcing and productive organization in industrial
maquilafirms, see Shaiken (1990) and Kenney and Florida (1994).
13 A related approach to these issues is to examine the changing boundaries
of the finn and how these are reconfiguredunder different (national)insti-
tutional arrangementsand traditions (Moralesand Quandt, 1992).

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