Book & Current Projects

Biopolitics of Lifestyle

My first book, The Biopolitics of Lifestyle: Foucault, Ethics and Healthy Choices, was published in early 2016 by Routledge. This book is part of the Interventions series edited by Jenny Edkins and Nick Vaughan-Williams.

Cover
Cover image: Toby Burrows (image) and Michael Cutrupi (dancer). From ‘nothing to Lose’ by Force Majeure. From The Biopolitics of Lifestyle, Routledge (2015).
The Biopolitics of Lifestyle was recently reviewed in the journal Sociology of Health and Illness, where it was described as,

“a theoretically rich book where neoliberal economics, lifestyle epidemiology, public health and health promotion, and choice architecture interventions (‘nudging’ people to make particular decisions) co-exist with lifestyle media and celebrities, clinicians, and apps and wearable devices. While Mayes is not the first to locate lifestyle or obesity in a biopolitical frame, he does so more thoroughly than any author that I have read via his examination of multiple entanglements within the lifestyle dispositif” – Patricia Thille (University of Toronto)

 

Current Book Project

Unsettling Alternative Food: The politics of food, land and agriculture in Australia

This is under contract with Rowman & Littlefield International for the Continental Philosophy in Austral-Asia series edited by Simone Bignall, P. Diego Bubbio, Joanne Faulkner and Paul Patton.

Short Description

This book casts a critical light on food, land use and political activism in Australia. Using a philosophical history of food and agriculture in Australia, this book brings contemporary alternative food discourse and practice into tension with Australia’s colonial past, the dispossession of Indigenous peoples and anthropocentric relations to the land.

Overview

Over the past 25 years, activists, farmers and scholars have been arguing that the industrialized global food system erodes democracy, perpetuates injustices, undermines population health and is environmentally unsustainable. In an attempt to resist these effects, activists have proposed alternative food networks that draw on ideas and practices from pre-industrial agrarian smallholder farming, as well as contemporary peasant movements.

Alternative food networks are not reducible to a single set of practice or theories, but are shaped by local histories and environments. However, alternative food proponents from across the globe increasingly use the idea of “food sovereignty”. The idea of food sovereignty originated with peasant movements in South and Central America (La Via Campesina) during their political struggles for land reform and agrarian citizenship. Food sovereignty is commonly defined as the right of people to control their own food and agricultural systems. Alternative food proponents argue that the interests of global industrial agricultural companies undermine citizens and farmers capacity to control what they eat or produce. Food sovereignty serves as an organizing idea in the struggle for a more democratic, healthy and sustainable food system. Practical expressions of these ideas occur in urban and peri-urban spaces: farmers’ markets, community gardens and small-scale agriculture.

Alternative food proponents and small-scale farmers in Australia also draw on ideas food sovereignty and agrarian traditions of agricultural production to provide an alternative to the dominance of Australian industrial food system. While the critique of industrial agriculture and neoliberalism is important and needs to be further developed, food sovereignty discourses and alternative food practices risk an uncritical blurring of distinct political and historical contexts surrounding land and farming. Slogans such as “the land belongs to those who work it” powerfully represent the struggle of dispossessed peasant farmers in Central America. However, in Australia such slogans and ideas of food sovereignty have the potential to mask the role played by farming in colonialism, as well as the deeply contested nature of land ownership and sovereignty claims in Australia.

This book uses current debates over Michel Foucault’s method of genealogy as a practice of critique and historical problematization of the present to reveal the historical constitution of contemporary alternative food discourses. While alternative food activists appeal to food sovereignty and agrarian discourses to counter the influence of neoliberal agricultural policies, these discourses remain entangled with colonial logics. In particular, the influence of Enlightenment ideas of improvement, colonial practices of agriculture as a means to establish ownership, and anthropocentric relations to the land. In combination with the genealogical analysis, this book brings continental political philosophy into conversation with Indigenous theories of sovereignty and alternative food discourse in order to open new spaces for thinking about food and politics in contemporary Australia.

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