The state as site and strategy: Neoliberalization, internationalization, and the Foreign Agricultural Service

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Tod Rutherford


State theory, Globalization, Neoliberalization, Internationalization, Foreign Agricultural Service

Subject Categories

Geography | Political Science | Social and Behavioral Sciences


Critics of neoliberalism and globalization often argue that these necessarily diminish the state's ability to manage its internal policies and external relations. The state thus becomes increasingly irrelevant as an agent of political legitimation and economic regulation, replaced by super- and sub-state institutions beholden to globalized capital. The case of the Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS), the US Department of Agriculture's primary trade and development agency, however, suggests that state institutions can enhance their power and position by serving as both site and strategy for class-relevant social forces, especially internationalizing capital, in processes of neoliberalization and internationalization. I argue that the continued transformation and institutionalization of neoliberalism depends on the actions of state institutions like FAS, which work with capital and other state agencies (both in the US and other countries) to "roll out" neoliberal institutions and relations. This not only facilitates and legitimates continued internationalization of capital, but also of the state. This belies neoliberal theory's understanding of the state as a rent-seeking intruder in markets, and points to the necessity of a more nuanced theory of the state for analyzing the geography of capitalist internationalization and neoliberalism.

The strategic-relational approach I adopt provides this by understanding the state as an ensemble of strategically selective institutions with differential capabilities to engage in strategic political behavior and align with class-relevant social forces external to the formal structure of the state. In this perspective, state support for capital is contingent, temporally and geographically conditioned, and instituted through the construction of state and hegemonic projects, which impose a relative unity on state actions. I employ this approach to examine neoliberalization as a state and hegemonic project, supplanting a previously hegemonic project of development. The shift between projects has profound implications for agro-food regulation, development and food security goals, and the position of FAS within the state-capital nexus. I focus on three different cases involving FAS--centering on the agency's place relative to US development policy, free trade agreements, and biotechnology and food safety regulation--to understand how state institutions serve as site and strategy in processes of neoliberalization and internationalization.


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