Disputation för filosofie doktorsexamen i geografi med kulturgeografisk inriktning vid Samhällsvetenskapliga fakulteten, Stockholms universitet, där Brian Kuns framlägger sin avhandling ”Peasants and Stock Markets: Pathways from Collective Farming in the Post-Soviet Grain-Belt”.

Plats: Nordenskiöldsalen, Geovetenskapens hus (hus U, plan 3), Svante Arrhenius väg 12, Frescati.

Tid: Kl. 13.00 den 27 oktober 2017.

Opponent: Professor Jennifer Clapp, School of Environment, Resources and Sustainability, University of Waterloo.

Huvudhandledare: Docent Anders Wästfelt, Kulturgeografiska institutionen, Stockholms universitet. Handledare: Professor emeritus Mats Widgren, Kulturgeografiska institutionen, Stockholms universitet.

Ordförande vid disputationen: Docent Ilda Lourenco Lindell, Kulturgeografiska institutionen, Stockholms universitet.

Betygsnämndens ledamöter: Professor Don Mitchell, Kulturgeografiska institutionen, Uppsala universitet, docent Ildikó Asztalos Morell, Institutet för Rysslands- och Eurasienstudier, Uppsala universitet, och docent Lowe Börjeson, Kulturgeografiska institutionen, Stockholms universitet. Suppleant: Docent Jonathan Feldman, Ekonomisk-historiska institutionen, Stockholms universitet.

Abstract: What happened in the post-Soviet, European grain-belt after collective farms were dissolved and in what way can we say that collective farm legacies influence agrarian developments in this region today? These are the main questions of this thesis, which is a work of critical human geography, but is also inspired by theories, methods and approaches from the social sciences, broadly defined. Territorially, the focus is Ukraine, but several articles in this thesis take a wider geographic perspective beyond Ukraine, in particular taking into account the role of Nordic investors in the agrarian sector in Ukraine and Russia. The main aim of this thesis is to examine how farms of different sizes – from small peasant farms to super large corporate farms – develop and change in post-communist circumstances. Another purpose is to reinterpret Soviet agrarian history, in light of what happened after the collapse of communism, in order to incorporate the Soviet experience in a global historical narrative, and to better understand the legacy of collective farming today.
These issues are explored in four papers and a comprehensive summary. The first article examines small-scale, household “peasant” agriculture in southern Ukraine and shows the conditions and factors, which have contributed to an impressive intensification of farming in certain villages. The second article investigates large-scale, Nordic investments in Ukrainian and Russian agriculture, with the aim of explaining why many (but not all) such investments have not succeeded to the degree that investors hoped. The third paper focuses on the legacy and afterlife of Soviet-era investments in large-scale irrigation in southern Ukraine, and uses the post-Soviet reincarnation of irrigation in this region to problematize traditional narratives on Soviet environmental management in a global context. The fourth paper, with a wider historical lens, explains the link between collective farms and today’s agroholding agriculture in much of the region, while also discussing the sustainability crisis in agriculture both in a Soviet and post-Soviet context, concluding with a description of a possible and ironic (but by no means inevitable) scenario whereby post-Soviet agriculture saves global capitalism.
Theoretically, this thesis is informed by agrarian political economy; related, contemporary debates on the financialization of agriculture; and critical human geography discussions on uneven development and the geographies of difference. This thesis also is inspired by Actor Network Theory, and the view that reality is constituted by hybrid subject-objects, which are instantiated through the agency of an assemblage or network of different actors, material things, discourses, institutions, etc... While such Actor Network approaches are certainly not new, their application to Soviet and post-Soviet change is relatively new. The source material, which is the basis for the empirical approach of this thesis, is eclectic, and produced via mixed methods from different locations. Analysis is based on interviews (75 interviews in southern Ukraine, in Kyiv, and in Stockholm, plus 28 visits to household farms in one study village in southern Ukraine); participant observation (carried out in the study village in southern Ukraine and in corporate shareholder meetings mostly in Stockholm); various texts, such as corporate documents and newspaper commentary; agricultural statistics; and satellite data.
Among other conclusions, this thesis argues that, given certain factors, small-scale, household agriculture can be viable, at the same time that the concentration and consolidation of agriculture into large-scale holdings is likely to continue, at least in the short term. This thesis also highlights similarities between Soviet and capitalist agriculture in a global historical context, which is one reason that the transformation from Soviet to capitalist agriculture could occur so fast in some areas.

Nyckelord: Agrarian change, environmental history, Ukraine, Russia, U.S.S.R., large-scale agriculture, agroholdings, financialization, smallholders, peasants, irrigation, uneven development, actor network theory, multi-sited and mixed methods.