The discursive flexibility of ‘flex crops’: comparing oil palm and jatropha

Carol Hunsberger, Alberto Alonso-Fradejas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


‘Flex crops’ such as corn, oil palm and soy are understood to have multiple, interchangeable uses; they have material flexibility. We propose that discursive flexibility – the ability to strategically switch between discourses to promote an objective – equally shapes the political economy of flex crops, and thereby patterns of agrarian and environmental change. Comparing oil palm and Jatropha curcas, we find that actors who cast oil palm as a multi-scale solution to food and energy insecurity, climate change and (rural) poverty successfully reinforce its high material flexibility. Jatropha's proponents compensate for low material flexibility by positioning the crop as a ‘sustainable’ energy source that achieves both global and local goals. While this paper focuses on discourses that reinforce the oil palm and jatropha projects, understanding the power of discursive maneuvering can also inform efforts to contest them.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)225-250
Number of pages26
JournalJournal of Peasant Studies
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jan 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • agrarian and environmental change
  • discourse
  • discursive flexibility
  • flex crops
  • Jatropha curcas
  • oil palm


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