BRICS Initiative for Critical Agrarian Studies launched


The BRICS Initiative for Critical Agrarian Studies (BICAS) is a new collective of largely BRICS-based or connected academic researchers concerned with understanding the BRICS countries and their implications for global agrarian transformations.

For its launch, BICAS has released its first call for proposals for current and recent PhD candidates, with a deadline of 1 February 2014.

The BICAS Research Agenda

Critical theoretical and empirical questions about the origins, character and significance of complex changes underway need to be investigated more systematically.

BICAS is an ‘engaged research’ initiative founded on a commitment to generating solid evidence and detailed, field-based research that can deepen analysis and inform policy and practice. In BICAS we will aim to connect disciplines across political economy, political ecology and political sociology in a multi-layered analytical framework, to explore agrarian transformations unfolding at national, regional and global levels and the relationships between these levels.

BICAS promotes critical and collaborative research to deepen understanding and to inform responses at local, national, regional and global levels. Our concerns are threefold:

  1. bicaslogoelementto promote world-class cutting edge research, expanding the frontier of knowledge on contemporary agrarian change, grounding this within our respective countries and regions, and building on our and others’ knowledge of agrarian change nested at these national and regional levels, in order to generate new insights, critiques and conversations about emerging global agrarian transformations, its drivers and its implications;
  2. to facilitate graduate student exchanges, comparative analysis and research collaboration among the BRICS and MICs countries, thereby improving scholarship and strengthening the next generation of intellectuals concerned with agrarian change and with the politics and economics of land, food and agriculture;
  3. to respond to the challenges faced by civil society organisations of how to respond to a more polycentric world, to address questions of CSOs and global governance, and to inform strategic thinking within these movements.

BICAS is founded on a vision for broader, more inclusive and critical knowledge production and knowledge exchange. We are building a joint research agenda based principally on our capacities and expertise in our respective countries and regions, and informed by the needs of our graduate students and faculty, but aiming to scale up in partnership and in dialogue with others. Our initial focus will be on Brazil, China and South Africa.

While we will build on a core coordinating network to facilitate exchange we aim to provide an inclusive space, a platform, a community, hence we invite participation.

Our Research Questions

BICAS sets out four clusters of research questions around which we are organising our research and our engagements with one another, and on which we will promote further research and dialogue.

In taking forward this research agenda, we are building on and intending to extend the focus of existing knowledge about the BRICS. The rise of BRICS countries has been accompanied by the rise of interest and academic research initiatives in recent years. Most of these initiatives are Africa-centric, tracking the impact of several BRICS countries on Africa. In building our network, our research focus and analytical frameworks differ from other research on the BRICS in at least four ways:

  1. We are not primarily concerned with the BRICS as an organisation, but with the constituent countries themselves and the changes underway within their national territories, around them regionally (intra-regional), and their activities in other regions (inter-regional). Our aim is to ground our analysis at the national level in a critical understanding of agrarian, environmental, and agro-investment policies, and to linking this through macro-level analysis and specific case studies to changes elsewhere in their regions and other regions.
  2. We are pursuing research and analysis framed primarily within agrarian political economy; unlike most BRICS research partnerships, we are not conducting strategic studies nor focused on international relations (IR) explanations.
  3. We are scholars rooted in the contexts of the BRICS countries and their neighbours. These are considered the world’s new centres of capital accumulation, but they also need to become hubs for knowledge production, and BICAS is founded on a desire to shape the process and politics of knowledge production about the BRICS, from within them.
  4. We do not focus exclusively on the BRICS countries; rather, we want to examine them in relation to both the older conventional hubs of global capital in the North Atlantic, and the rising MICs.

Possible initiatives/projects aside from in-house collaborative research among coordinating members include:

  1. International conference, seminars and workshops around the themes discussed above
  2. Small research grant competition, especially aimed at PhD researchers doing field research
  3. Various forms of affliations by researchers: as interns, as ‘post-docs’, as fellows
  4. BICAS Working Paper Series

To find out more about BICAS, download the founding document (pdf, 430 kb).

Who we are


The convening institutions and key contact researchers of BICAS are:

  • Brazil: Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS), with Prof. Sergio Schneider, Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS), with Sergio Schneider
  • Brazil: University of Brasilia (UnB), Planaltina Campus (FUP), with Prof. Sergio Sauer
  • China: College of Humanities and Development Studies (COHD) at the China Agricultural University, Beijing, with Prof. Ye Jingzhong and a group of faculty at the college, and adjunct professors Henry Bernstein, Saturnino (‘Jun’) M. Borras Jr., Jennifer Franco and Jan Douwe van der Ploeg
  • South Africa: Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS) at the University of the Western Cape, Cape Town, with professors Ben Cousins, Andries Du Toit and Ruth Hall

In collaboration with:

Transnational Institute (TNI –

International Institute of Social Studies (ISS) in The Hague, Agrarian, Food & Environmental Studies (AFES) research sub-cluster is part of the Research Program: Political Economy of Research, Environment and Population Studies (PER).

Future Agricultures Consortium


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