Kayla Byers, Class of 2016, Marylhurst UniversityKayla Byers ’16, M.S. in Food Systems & Society, presented at the International Rural Sociology Association’s annual conference in August 2016.

Kayla Byers introduced the research she completed in the course of writing her Marylhurst University food systems and society master’s thesis: Not-So-Free Trade Agreements: Discursive Framings of Food Systems Benefits and Burdens Around Free Trade Agreements.

Kayla’s presentation examined the U.S. government and alternative agrifood discourse about food in free trade agreements (FTAs). She advocates for expanding a conversation around FTAs and issues of oppression that result from these agreements. She cites as examples of oppression: exploitation, powerlessness and cultural imperialism. Historically, FTAs have greatly benefitted certain groups or individuals to the determent of others, she claims. Kayla notes that notion of social justice is not inherent in the free trade discourse of the U.S. government, which stresses competition, consumption, market stability and economic growth.

“The world is now dependent on a global food system; a system that is based around trade and trade agreements but also a system that has led to many instances of continuing oppression,” Kayla writes in her thesis. “The disconnect or complete failure to address food, free trade and oppression within the same space will lead food systems to sit in stasis despite attempts being made by the alternative agrifood movement to create a just food system. With the push by many alternative agrifood movements to reclaim local, we cannot forget that what exists now is a global system, and we must improve the global food systems discourse.”

The World Congress of Rural Sociology encourages interdisciplinary dialogue, exchange and collaboration in order to enhance the contributions and applications of sociological inquiry for understanding and improving the life conditions and experiences of people located in, identified with, and concerned about, rural places and communities worldwide. Speakers provide fresh, integrative insights and challenges for rural sociological inquiry and practice.

The International Rural Sociology Association fosters the development of rural sociology, furthers the application of sociological inquiry to the improvement of the quality of rural life, and provides a mechanism whereby rural sociologists can generate dialogue and useful exchange.

Kayla Byers shares her experience at the IRSA World Congress on blog.marylhurst.edu. Kayla earned an M.S. in Food Systems & Society from Marylhurst University in 2016.