The Bernstein & Byres Prize in Agrarian Change 2019


We are pleased to announce that Sébastien Rioux has been awarded the 2019 Bernstein & Byres Prize for his article ‘Capitalist food production and the rise of legal adulteration: Regulating food standards in 19th‐ century Britain’, Journal of Agrarian Change, 2019, vol. 19, no. 1: 64-81. The author is Assistant Professor and Canada Research Chair in the Political Economy of Food and Wellbeing, Department of Geography, Université de Montréal.

The Bernstein & Byres Prize has been awarded since 2008 by the Journal of Agrarian Change (JAC) to the best article published in that year. An award of £500 is given to the winner (donated by our publisher, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd). Articles are judged on: (a) their quality as works of political economy; (b) their analytical power; (c) their originality; and (d) the quality of evidence presented and its deployment. Through this, we hope to reinforce the remit of the Journal in the field of agrarian political economy and to encourage scholarly work investigating the social relations and dynamics of production, property and power in agrarian formations and their processes of change, both historical and contemporary.

For the prize for 2019, a jury of five was asked to assess four articles shortlisted by the Journal’s editors. They chose the winner. The other articles that made it to the shortlist were (in alphabetical order):

  • Jennifer Bair, ‘Class formation and commodity chains in the making of regional monocultures: Agrarian reform from above and below in Mexico’s henequen and cotton zones’. Journal of Agrarian Change, 2019, vol. 19, no. 3: 487-505.
  • Teo Ballvé, ‘Narco‐frontiers: A spatial framework for drug-fuelled accumulation’. Journal of Agrarian Change, 2019, vol.19, no. 2: 211-24.
  • Sahan Savas Karatasli and Sufika Kumral, ‘Capitalist development in hostile conjunctures: War, dispossession, and class formation in Turkey’. Journal of Agrarian Change, vol. 19, no. 3: 528-49.

The jury consisted of three members of the International Advisory Board (who vary annually) and the Journal’s founders and editors emeriti – Henry Bernstein and Terence J. Byres. The jury members produced detailed reports for which the editorial team would like to thank them. We draw upon these reports in the following remarks of the article by Sébastien Rioux.

The article focuses on the blurring distinction between legal and illegal forms of food adulteration from a historical perspective. One of the jurors stated that ‘It is, indeed, the best survey of the literature on food adulteration in Britain in the second half of the 19th century that I have seen.’ Rioux’s tracing of the historical formation of a categorial distinction between legal and illicit food adulteration within late 19th century English political economy has explicit and far-reaching significance in a world characterised by voluntary industry regulation/standards. The article reframes the role of the state in food production using a refreshing read of food policies and legal norms as contested arenas over what food is (and for whom) and the distinction between legal and illegal forms of food adulteration. Thus, the role of the state and its class correlates with respect to food adulteration, is established with considerable clarity. The article, therefore, pushes the boundaries of agrarian political economy by pointing out the need for nuanced social histories, and attention to food quality and legal contexts, as part of political-economic understandings of food. Rioux establishes that ‘food adulteration is constitutive of capitalist food production’.

The editors of JAC would like to congratulate Sébastien Rioux on his impressive achievement and especially for providing an excellent example of empirically grounded historical political economy. We want to use this as an opportunity to encourage others to engage in intellectually ambitious and empirically rigorous work in agrarian political economy of this sort; the Journal of Agrarian Change will continue to welcome such submissions.