Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Two Hundred Hectares of Good Business: Brazilian Agriculture in a Themed Space

Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Two Hundred Hectares of Good Business: Brazilian Agriculture in a Themed Space

Article excerpt

Agricultural fairs are themed spaces that produce cultural and political meanings attracting nearly 160 million visitors per year in the United States (Corbin 2002; Lukas 2007). In Brazil, an "agricultural superpower" in the words of former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell (Powell 2004; Barros 2009), fairs are held regularly in thousands of municipalities. Since the early 1990s Brazil's farming elite in leading-edge regions have held megafairs to display farm machinery, inputs, and services as showcases of farming prowess or "regional prestige," arguments for regional economic development that attracts investment (Chase 2003).

We analyze one megafair, the farm show in the Brazilian northeast state of Bahia, as a themed space that promotes regional economic development in "200 hectares of good business," as the master of ceremonies and the public-address system constantly reminded the audience. We do this by considering how morphology, performance, and iconography create arguments about power, culture, nature, and sociotechnological relations. We argue that the agricultural fair is a site where economic elites construct arguments aiming to increase regional prestige and create notions of normal agricultural scale while accommodating statewide political elites. Through this analysis we claim that the megafair is a site for producing arguments that help sustain Brazil's global agricultural prowess. That such trade fairs exist in Brazil is not surprising; their content, however, is not known but merits study from a themed-space perspective which illustrates how elites produce spaces that generate arguments sustaining accumulation strategies.

METHODS

Our research preceded along two independent lines that approached the June 2009 Bahia Farm Show as a consolidated event or performance read as a "text" (Cosgrove and Daniels 1988). The first author, Christian Brannstrom, followed a methodology based on participant observation coupled with analysis of documents available from fair organizers. After paying the entrance fee (an amount equivalent to approximately U.S.$2.00), he spent one day at the site and returned for a second, "free" day. Upon entering the site, he observed three aspects of the fair: morphology or internal organization (Kniffen 1949, 1951); performances, such as speeches, intended to generate meanings; and iconography within and outside the fair. Notes of speeches, sketch maps, photography, and a census of display stands constituted his data.

Independently of the first author, the second author, Paulo Brandao, observed the 2009 Bahia Farm Show as professor of undergraduates enrolled in the geography program at the branch campus of the Federal University of Bahia in Barreiras, a fast-growing city in the western part of the state. Brandao led twenty students on a four-hour field trip that showed how the landscape of an agricultural fair simultaneously creates geographical representations and reflects power relations inherent to the elites who created the Farm Show as a spectacle and performance. Milton Santos's argument that this type of event exemplifies "technical-productive structures" motivated this approach (2004, 39). Students began the field trip with the premise that the temporary nature of the Bahia Farm Show expresses its creators' intentionality. Brandao instructed the students to collect data in two ways. First, the students were to circulate freely in small groups through the Farm Show, observing the most prominent themes and engaging attendees and participants in open-ended interviews. Second, they were to randomly interview 200 attendees, with questions focusing on the landscape representations of the Farm Show. After the field trip, the students discussed their findings and collectively produced a text that summarized their observations.

We identified the themes--power, culture, nature, and sociotechnological rela-tions--checked assertions and claims against our own field notes, and cross-checked each other's assertions. …

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