Introduction text to CV Campesino
This project borrows the language and formalisms of academia to draft a résumé for a couple of peasants from León.
The proposal consists of a text written in the style of a résumé of an academic or of a professional working for an international development agency, an NGO, the UN or some other intergovernmental body, but what is actually being detailed here are the chores and labor of peasants and small farmers.
Among the various styles and formats for résumés proper to different jobs, the most descriptive and most pompous, sometimes bordering on outlandish, comes from this particular field.
For instance, an administrative post for one of these bodies is known as “knowl-edge officer” and the requirement for the post is stipulated as follows: “Generate robust evidence and know-how that is informed by a practical perspective acquired through hands-on work.”
The embellishment and abstraction in these texts is in itself a kind of self-mar-keting and propaganda, and so I have deliberately used this format and language to resituate the labor of peasants which has been continuously undervalued and stigmatized, written off as obsolete, archaic and out of place or indeed as romantic, ideal and folkloric.
The purpose of this project is to describe real labor through the use of hyperbole. The work takes the format of a block of text and a photograph on a rigid sup-port, placing it somewhere between literary and sculptural production. Similarly to the way the text utilizes exaggeration as a means, the large size of the “paper”matches the grandiloquence.
Asunción Molinos Gordo is a visual artist living and working between Egypt, Oman and Spain. Her works are available at www.asuncionmolinos.com
(Please click on the image to enlarge and read)
Having worked for many years with people who refer to themselves as family farmers or peasants—whether in the United States or France, in Turkey or in Mozambique—I am not surprised that they possess what a human resources department might call "knowledge, skills and abilities" (KSAs). At first glance, Asunción Molinos Gordo's peasant CVs make perfect sense to me, translating farmer KSAs into a language of legitimated boasting—representing farmers’ attributes and capabilities in a way that might allow for well-deserved, if long-overdue recognition. As these CVs show, peasants and family farmers have an impressive range of knowledge, skills and abilities: from the capacity to recognize and react to the changing of the seasons (not to mention broader changes in the global climate); to an understanding of biodiversity and the experimental methods by which the best uses for particular seeds, animal breeds or plots of land might be determined; to the entrepreneurialism and management skills necessary to navigate markets being radically transformed by neoliberal trade agreements; to the ability to hold together families and communities in the midst of economic and ecological crises.
Why, then, is a peasant CV such an unusual thing to see? Is it because it adorns the work of the humble in a language typically reserved for the distinguished? Of course, articulating the value of farmer KSAs in the formalized language of the CV challenges the social categories ordinarily associated with different modes of speech, as well as undermining the hierarchies normally confining people to their “appropriate” language domains. Such hyperbole, as Molinos Gordo refers to it, has the mischievous affect of dressing the humble in prestige stripped from the distinguished, leaving the conceit of the latter exposed.
But the peasant CV surprises us for another reason, perhaps less apparent but more fundamental. In its conventional form, the CV is not only a professional biography, it is a genre of self-representation associated with a broader discursive formation (to borrow terminology form the French social theorist Michel Foucault)—one that is appropriate to specific kinds of political, social and economic transactions. A CV is designed and deployed to gain access to particular sorts of opportunities (grants, licenses, employment)—in other words, it is used to solicit investment of resources in one's labor. And, crucially, it makes the case for such investment with the promise of return to the investor. “Here’s what I can do . . . for you! Imagine how you might benefit by my knowledge, skills and abilities!” Such claims—such offers—are not recklessly made by family farmers or peasants, who by definition seek to maintain some degree of autonomy from the very markets upon which they paradoxically depend. While they may be acutely aware of the potential value of their labor, they must also jealously guard against the appropriation of that value by those who might "invest" in their work—against giving “a cut of the profits” that might ultimately compromise their livelihoods or, even, their lives.
Peasants and family farmers see the value of their work in diverse ways, as Molinos Gordo's CVs illustrate: they may prize a substantial degree of self-sufficiency; they may prioritize the reproduction of the family and the survival of the farm; they may see considerable worth in the creation and maintenance of community; they may devote themselves to care for their animals and stewardship of their land; they may take pride in the quality of the food they produce. In all of this, they may concern themselves as much—if not more—with passing on to subsequent generations their knowledge, their ethos, their heritage, or the natural endowment in which they have worked, as they do with maximizing output or profit. Such forms of value are hard to measure. What is more, they resist capture by potential investors—by potential readers of a conventional CV—such as vertically integrated retailers who are generally interested only in farmers operating at scales necessary to fulfill large orders at low prices, or agricultural biotechnology firms who see farmers as little more than potential consumers of the products deriving from their own knowledge, skills and abilities (such as seed/pesticide/fertilizer packages designed for intensive farming).
Nonetheless, these CVs remind us, the KSAs of family farmers and peasants underpin values whose realization may not only sustain them, but may also benefit broader communities (from their farmer-neighbors to those who purchase their produce) and the ecosystems they sustain (which are component parts of our larger planetary ecosystem). Such labors are worthy not only of recognition, but also of investment from those of us who might enjoy the more diverse, often deferred returns they promise. Returning to Foucault’s language, if the political, social and economic arrangements necessary to such forms of investment are to emerge, they must inevitably do so in tandem with new discursive formations, including new genres for the presentation—even celebration—of self and the articulation of value(s). We can only hope that these CVs are at the leading edge of more boasting by, and on behalf of, peasants and family farmers.
Harry G. West is Professor of Anthropology and Chair of the Food Studies Centre at SOAS, University of London (http://www.soas.ac.uk/foodstudies/)