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Keywords:

  • farm labor;
  • unions;
  • agribusiness;
  • tobacco;
  • theater;
  • North Carolina

Abstract

This article examines the cultural politics of farm labor organizing in North Carolina's tobacco-producing region. Exploring the form and content of a theatrical performance staged in a labor camp by union affiliates, I show how the play builds on strategic cultural stereotypes about growers and workers. The play focuses on the theme of farmworker squalor and questions of who is responsible and who is to blame. While the play clearly has immediate pedagogical and political value for workers and participants, a narrative of good actors and bad actors occludes a full appreciation of the role of multinational capital and government neglect in inducing harm endured by farm labor and constraints faced by growers. This case study permits insights into the relevance of cultural performance in contemporary efforts to invoke ethical concerns and make policy improvements in agriculture and to develop constructive criticism about farm labor organizing and outreach strategies.