An eighteenth-century notion that literacy constituted a form of politically enfranchised, self-ruling subjectivity resurfaces in the mid-twentieth century not only in the work of Carothers and McLuhan, or in the spurious literacy tests used to bar black Americans from voting, but also in the agricultural policies the British and the World Bank imposed on Kenya in its transition to independence. To resolve the political problem posed by white settlers’ demands for remuneration for property (should they choose to flee independent Kenya), the British devised the Million-Acre-Settlement Scheme, to be sponsored jointly by Britain and the World Bank. The scheme allowed Kenyans to purchase land from white settlers (at overvalued rates set by the British) with the help of bank loans. Subject to the World Bank’s criteria, the scheme promulgated ownership of medium-large plantations, despite political pressures from many Kenyans to accommodate smallholders and collectives. The historian Christopher Leo has shown how the Bank privileged “progressive farmers,” generally meaning that they selected loan recipients from among a literate bourgeoisie (who often had other forms of urban professional employment), not from among the pool of people who most urgently needed land.
According to World Bank criteria, poor nonliterate farmers could not be depended on to repay loans. Yet the results of the Million-Acre scheme suggested otherwise. Leo has pointed out that, contrary to the claims made by agricultural experts at the time, Kenya’s smallholdings turned out to be more productive per hectare than large plantations, even despite the fact that smallholders were granted the least arable lands. Leo’s research only reaffirms what colonial agricultural experts had already observed in the 1930s and ’40s—that black Kenyans’ small farms were generally more economically viable than whites’, despite the advantages enjoyed by the latter. Given this evidence, the privileges accorded to progressive farming seem to constitute little more than the assertion of a class-based system of power, upheld by the tenet that a certain cognitive disposition (that of a literate bourgeoisie) was needed to properly govern the nature of land.
In the first pages of this essay, I stated that noopolitics ideally should be analyzed in their entanglement with other strains of power. Of particular interest in the case of Kenya is a category of power that has gone unnamed in the annals of scholarship, although aspects of it certainly appear in Marx and in Marxian scholarship, in the environmental humanities, and (rather latently) in Foucault’s discussion of biopower. This category, which I call terra-power, refers to the harnessing of the earth’s bioproductive capacities, involving techniques of labor management, techniques of destruction and infrastructural construction, and techniques of cultivation, all tending toward the physical reorganization of the earth’s humans and nonhumans. Appearing in antiquity with the rise of large-scale agriculture and a corresponding division of labor, terra-power is the foundation of what Ulrich Beck calls “risk society,” reminding us that the latter is not in fact a twentieth-century phenomenon but is implicated in the very advent of agricultural production, which has always been a technology for mitigating risk while, in the process, constantly producing new risks. Or rather, terra-power is a technology for redistributing risk over time and across different strata of society. Involved in both risk production and risk absorption, terra-power has been long linked to class struggle, which, at its historical base, concerns how the burden of agricultural risks, the burdens of labor, and the boon of agricultural surpluses should be distributed among the classes.
The late nineteenth-century development of agricultural futures trading transposed this distribution of risk into a self-regulating system. Going a step further, digital cell-phone technologies are now touted as a means of putting Third World farmers directly in touch with agricultural futures markets. Nootechnologies thus support terra-power, attempting to defuse class struggle by converting every Third World farmer into a petty risk-bearing capitalist. These digital tools clearly serve as instruments of what Stiegler calls collective individuation, but it should be remembered that collective individuation is also conducted through architecture and that the global village is an architectural configuration, one facilitating noopolitics through the distribution of people so as to direct them toward particular semiotic forms of subjectivity. Supporting processes of nootechnical individuation are the architectures that organize collective modes of existence and collective identities.