4 June 2024
DocTalks x MoMA
Session 4

Rice Weeders' landscapes: female work, songs, and protests in northern Italy between the 19th and 20th centuries.

Architectural Association

Respondent: Maria Luisa Palumbo, Cornell University

Angelo Morbelli, In risaia (1901). In the rice field. Oil on canvas, Private collection.

1957, an unusual silence prevailed in the Mantua rice fields.1 Modine no longer sang along with the birds. Since 1952, when herbicides largely replaced manual labour by making rice cultivation more efficient, these groups of seasonal female agricultural workers became less valuable and were deemed unnecessary. Such a breakthrough was undoubtedly an outstanding achievement in the modern agricultural-chemical industry, as it relieved them of such exhausting labour. Before this, they worked for more than eight hours daily without resting, bent over the ground with their eyes fixed on it and their feet in the water. They were responsible, once or twice a year during spring and summer, for removing weeds and useless plants from rice fields. This process was essential for preparing the fields for sowing or planting young rice plants.

However, this investigation questions whether their role and contribution has been underestimated and forgotten too rapidly and whether a different story2 can be told by considering the matter of care, as raised within the ecological discourse of contemporary female thinkers.3

The songs that punctuated their monotonous labour echoed this matter. They were passed down from mother to daughter, narrating their lost loves, nostalgia for their native country, rural life gestures, and work fatigue. In addition to cheering them up, these songs consolidated their bonds of solidarity, and contributed to shaping their political voices in the first feminist and worker demands in Italy starting in 1883. Hence, this research aims to read back their stories, their soil-care practices, and their material culture. It does so by unlocking the links between their status as female workers, their environment, and their ability to assert their rights. This can become an important legacy for contemporary ecological thought.

1. One of Mondine's most popular songs was “Se otto ore vi sembrano poche. Andate voi a lavorare.” (“If you find that eight hours are not enough, then you can try going to work.”  Translated by the author). 
2. Ursula k. Le Guin, The carrier bag theory of fiction, (London: Ignota, 2019).
3. María de la Bellacasa, Matters of Care, Speculative Ethics in More Than Human Worlds, (Minneapolis, London: University of Minnesota Press, 2017).


Long Beach is..?
Articulating Place-Based Scenario Planning for the Climate Emergency

Harvard University Graduate School of Design

Respondent: Peter Osborne, McGill University

Kira Clingen, The two lines of cottages at Long Beach, Rockport, Massachusetts, collage, 2023. 

Long Beach is a seasonal community of 145 oceanfront cottages in Rockport, Massachusetts. The cottages were built over a sandy spit beach dune system in the early 1900s with a split ownership structure: the cottages are owned by private owners, while the land underneath the cottages belongs to the Town of Rockport. In the climate emergency, the question of what to do at Long Beach (do nothing, armor, or retreat) is a super wicked problem. Addressing the complexity of the entangled ecological, social, and economic problems at Long Beach requires residents and stakeholders to make a decision in the present, long before the potential worst consequences of the problem (a Category 5 hurricane, financial litigation against the Town, loss of life) manifest.

This presentation uses place-based scenario planning, a form of long-term strategic planning specific to the design disciplines, to visualize the plausible coastal adaptation strategies that the community at Long Beach may choose. Place-based scenario planning addresses the climate communication crisis by visualizing how communities are already changing and will continue to change, using multidisciplinary sources including historic maps, archival photographs, probabilistic data, and municipal reports. These changes are described using design storytelling in short, open-ended plausible futures that open debate on how to adapt justly in the climate emergency.

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