Nick Wilson, "Political Ecology and the Irish Potato Famine"

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be linked to shifts in world climate caused by ENSO. He concludes, however, that while ENSO might have been "the great white whale of tropical meteorology"2 it cannot be seen as having caused the famines of the later Victorian period. In fact, he argues that even though the ENSO events of the late nineteenth century might have been particularly severe, "equal causal weight, or more, must be accorded to the growing social vulnerability to climate variability."3

Social vulnerability to ENSO events in the emerging third world is generated and maintained in Davis' model by the imposition of the "free" market on indigenous society by western imperial states. Davis finds three critical "points of articulation" that epitomize the actions of imperial states and the free market in the third world of the late Victorian period. The first is that small subsistence farmers in indigenous societies lost their security against famine as they began to participate in the commodity chains of the world capitalist economy. Subsistence farmers were forced to switch directly from growing their own means of subsistence to growing cash crops and then buying their food from the global market. In India, for example,

"small producers made the apparently surprising choice of substituting cotton for millet. For land short peasants, [its] higher returns per acre provided a better chance of approaching subsistence targets than did grain cultivation itself."4

Of course, this gamble represented an enormously increased risk for small farmers because they no longer directly controlled their means of subsistence. The price of the crops they were raising, and hence the amount of food that could be exchanged for them, were determined by the world market, not their own labor and local climate.5


2. Davis, 213.
3. Davis, 288.
4. Davis, 316.
5. Davis, 316.
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