The Tiny House Movement: A progressive movement or a reactive defense of place?


Isabelle van Acquoy wrote an essay on the Tiny House Movement for the course RSO 55306 A Glocal Sense of Place. Is the Tiny House Movement a progressive movement reaching out or a reactive sense of place, she asked herself? Below a condensed version of her essay.  

The Tiny House Movement is an upcoming ‘social and architectural trend that advocates living simply in small spaces’ (Anson, 2014). A tiny house is on average between 10 and 40 square meters and is originally a mobile house, however they exist in different sizes and shapes. The movement became booming in the United States as a result of the housing market crash in 2007 and 2008 in which a lot of people lost their homes due to the inability to pay their enormous mortgages. Quite recently, the movement also became of interest in the Netherlands where different pioneers are experimenting with this alternative way of housing and living.

The aim of this paper was to look at the Tiny House Movement from a relational perspective by questioning why people change their living preferences or, otherwise stated, change their way of ‘being-in-the-world’. This paper discussed whether this being-in-the-world is a defensive strategy of place as reactionary to external oppressing forces (Escobar, 2001) or a progressive movement trying to change the current system by creating a different lifestyle (Massey, 1994, 2004).

The United States housing industry was mainly building multi-story houses with no clear architectural style- a typical ‘one size fits all’ manner of building houses for middle-class American families. Most could not really afford living in such a big house, which came to show in the mortgage crisis in 2007 and 2008 when a lot of families were put into huge debts. This, of course, was not just the fault of American families buying houses, which they could not really afford, but also because of the speculation and fragility of the financial and economical system. The effects of ‘the system’ caused a large threat for a lot of American families, which caused a sense of insecurity of losing one’s home. These events are exactly the concerns expressed by Escobar (2001) in which he sees the global structures as a threat to ‘place’. In that case, The Tiny House Movement could be seen as a reactionary response to the mortgage crisis. The decision for some individuals or families to live in a smaller house was for many not a voluntary choice as for some it was the sole option left. It is cheaper to buy a tiny home since the fixed costs will be lower, which leaves individuals or families with more financial flexibility and makes them more adaptive in these ‘uncertain’ times.

Escobar (2001) shows ‘a struggle for territory’ in which he sees global forces, such as capitalism as a ‘machine’ or ‘something above us’. On the contrary, Massey (2004) connects the global with the local and sees it as equally grounded. Place is then rather seen as a ‘site of negotiation’ and thus the ‘struggle’ mentioned by Escobar (2001) becomes a means for negotiation. According to Massey (2004) this is a ‘crucial political stake to challenge and change the hegemonic identity of place and the way in which the denizens of a particular locality imagine it and thereby avail themselves of the imaginative resources to reconstruct it’. Her she goes beyond seeing just local as meaningful and the global as abstract. Her vision transforms the Tiny House Movement from a defensive and reactionary movement to a progressive movement as the local and the global is enacted in our selves and thus, we can change it. In that regard, the movement can be seen as challenging our current way of living by addressing our relations with the world- other human beings and nature, or otherwise stated, the movement is challenging our ‘being in the world’. It is not anymore about the bigger, the better, but about the smaller, the better.

The main question of this essay was about if the Tiny House Movement was a defensive strategy of place (Escobar, 2001) or a progressive strategy (Massey, 1994, 2004). On the one hand, the start of the movement could have been a defense mechanism reactionary to the mortgage crisis in the United States and other (financial) crises all over the world. However, this would suggest that the system – the global, ‘the abstract’ – is something we cannot influence and is only something we can react upon and adapt to. Massey (1994; 2004) reflects upon this differently by seeing the local and the global as equally grounded, as interactive with each other, which makes us part of the global and thus, makes us active agents in shaping a place. This would suggest that the movement becomes more than just reactionary. It is not just about adapting our selves, but it could also suggest that we are resisting the current status quo by progressively changing it. This also relates to ‘the movement part’ as it is becoming a bigger movement spreading all over the world. As we look at it from this broader perspective there is a shift in lifestyle, not only present in the housing domain, but a new kind being-in-the-world reshaping our relations with other human beings and our environment.

Below one of the many documentaries on the Tiny House Movement in the United States called ‘Living small’ made by Stephen Hewitt. An interesting Dutch documentary called ‘Een kleine verandering’ made by Koen Derksen (HKU student) will be soon available on YouTube. Information on the Dutch documentary ‘Een kleine verandering’ can be found via this link:

See also this documentary at:


Anson, A. (2014). “The World is my Backyard”: Romanticization, Thoreauvian Rhetoric, and Constructive Confrontation in the Tiny House Movement. From Sustainable to Resilient Cities: Global Concerns and Urban Efforts (Research in Urban Sociology, Volume 14) Emerald Group Publishing Limited, 14, 289-313.

Escobar, A. (2001). Culture sits in places: Reflection on Globalism and subaltern strategies of Localizaton. Political Geography Vol. 20: 139-174.

Massey, D. (1994) ‘A Global Sense of Place’, originally published in Marxism Today (June): 24–9; Reprinted in D. Massey Space, Place and Gender, Cambridge: 146–56. Polity Press.

Massey, D. (2004). Geographies of responsibility, Geografiska Annaler 86: 5-18

A glimpse of an organic farm in the Netherlands

By Tian Yu, a PhD candidate at Wageningen University, who’s research focusses on organic farming and rural development.

Since the ecological movement came into being in the sixties, organic farming has kept on developing and now has a history of half century in the Netherlands. Today’s organic farm is different from what it was in the beginning. Some ‘modern elements’ have been added, but the underlying social and environmental principles are still the same.

After doing some readings and interviews about organic farm in the Netherlands, I finally got the chance to experience a real, tangible Dutch organic farm. The farm I visited is located in the famous Dutch ‘polders’ in the Flevoland province, and produces mainly vegetables. It has 75 hectares of land, which is bigger than the average organic farm in Holland. Even though it has no plants or work in the field during wintertime, still I have experienced and seen a lot, especially regarding energy- and labour use on the farm. It’s easy to notice at first that some fuel-based and electricity-based machines were used for planting, harvesting and washing vegetables, which is kind of out of my imagination. But also the so-called new energy – solar energy and methane – are used here.

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Food Otherwise Conference 2016 February 12-13

Food Otherwise bannerFebruary 12 and 13 the 2nd Food Otherwise conference takes place in the Orion building of Wageningen University. The first Food Otherwise Conference took place in 2014 and has been an overwhelming success with 800 participants and full of spirit to make a difference. The Food Otherwise conference is supported by many organisations that published the Foods Otherwise manifesto: Towards fair and sustainable food and agriculture systems.

Next to the plenary programme there will be 60 workshops in four parallel sessions on four themes: 1. Agroecology, soil & permaculture; 2. Short chains and urban farming; 3. Fair agriculture and trade policies; 4. Access to land and land rights. You can download the full programme and guidelines on how to register yourself. There is a special programme for kids, so you can take them along.

The plenary programme offers inspiring key note speakers from home and abroad: e.g. Irene Cardoso (Chair of the Brazilian Agroecology Association, Professor of Soil Science), Jyoti Fernandes (farmer and member of La Via Campesina Europe), Sieta Keimpema (Dutch Dairymen Board), Jonathan Karpathios (Greek- Dutch chef, food blogger and gardener), Olivier De Schutter (IPES-Food), Jocelyn Parot (Urgenci), Maryam Rahmanian (FAO) and Jan Douwe van der Ploeg (Wageningen University).

Reclaim the Seeds is a special co-event on Saturday, from 10.00-17.00 in the Forum building.

The Rural Sociology Group supports the Food Otherwise Conference. Jan Douwe van der Ploeg (professor Transition Studies) contributes on Saturday with an overall reflection and convenes a workshop on ‘Gebiedscooperaties: zelfsturing en autonomie’ with speakers from the Northern Frisian Woodlands and Province of Friesland.

Seminar Per Olsson on Resilience and Socio-Ecological Transformations on 24 Feb

We have invited dr. Per Olsson from the Stockholm Resilience Centre to visit Wageningen and give a public lecture on the 24th of February. He will give a public lecture on his primary field of research which is focussed on linked socio-ecological system dynamics and resilience. In this lecture he will be putting sustainability transitions central, while discussants from the groups RSO, KTI and PAP will reflect on the lecture taking their own research in mind.Poster Seminar.png Continue reading

Geographies of connectivity: a relational perspective on ‘autonomous’ Eco-villages in Romania

Flora Sonkin, MSc. International Development Studies at Wageningen University, followed the course of Global Sense of Place (RSO-55306) of the Rural Sociology Group. For the course, she wrote an essay on Eco-villages. Below, a summary of her essay.

IMG_7978.JPGDebates in contemporary social theory and political geography on the use of relational theory as a conceptual framework (found in the works of Escobar, Harvey, Massey and others), have generated a fertile ground to the deconstruction of the concept of place as bounded space. Through the use of a relational approach, space is seen as a social construction (Harvey, 1994). Consequently, it becomes a result of interactions, which are neither static nor limited to boundaries. In other words, thinking space relationally means that place is not defined as a locality or mere geographic position, but as a complex network of relations, a product of multiple trajectories and practices (Massey, 2004).

The aim of the paper I wrote on eco-villages is to contribute to the academic and activist discussion on the creation of different realities or “other worlds” in the present, using the case of eco-villages and the Global Ecovillage Network to illustrate the possibility to live within alternative forms of socio-economic organization without withdrawing from mainstream connections and social relations. Here, eco-villages and the global network are first characterized as a social movement which aims for self-sufficient living, being also put into the category of an ‘autonomous geography’ (Pickerill & Chatterton 2006). Continue reading

Call for Papers: Gendered food practices from seed to waste

Call for papers for the Yearbook of Women’s History (2016)

Traditional food festival

Pastoralist women at traditional food fair in Gujarat, India  (photo credit: MARAG)


Gendered food practices from seed to waste
Guest editors: Bettina Bock and Jessica Duncan

About the Yearbook

The Yearbook of Women’s History is a peer-reviewed academic annual covering all aspects of gender connected with historical research throughout the world. It has a respectable history in itself, reporting on issues concerning women and gender for 35 years. The Yearbook has addressed topics such as women and crime, women and war, and gender, ethnicity and (post)colonialism. Overtime the Yearbook has shifted focus from purely historical analysis to a broader historical and gender analysis, focused on women’s and men’s roles in society. By focusing on specific themes, the Yearbook aspires that each issue crosses cultures and historical time periods, while offering readers the opportunity to compare perspectives within each volume. There has been one previous issue related to food: Gender and Nurture (1999). The present volume is a follow-up and aims to testify to differences in scholarly approaches in this field since the 1990s.

About the Annual Issue

In nearly all societies gender has been and continues to be central in defining roles and responsibilities around food production, manufacturing, provisioning, eating, and disposal. Food–related work and practices along with context and cultures serve to construct and reinforce identities and social structures. At the same time, the gendered practices around food are complex and often contradictory. Much of the literature on gender and food explores these complexities and contradictions but continues to make use of dichotomies (i.e., rural/urban; local/global; producer/consumer; large-scale/small-scale; man/woman; past/future) that are increasingly less suited to critical analyses of the fluidity of experiences and science and thus limit our ability to better understand relationships between food and gender.

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Feeding Dar es Salaam: where does all the meat come from?

By Marc Wegerif. PhD-candidate at the Rural Sociology Group, Wageningen University and carrying out research on food provisioning in Dar es Salaam. Contact:

It was a Sunday afternoon, I sat at a table drinking beer and eating a grilled goat’s leg with Larry and Samuel. We were at the Pugu cattle market on the edge of Dar es Salaam and my companions were and are meat traders, butchers I suppose, there to buy some cattle. Dar es Salaam is Tanzania’s largest city with a fast growing population of around 4.5 million making it a major market for animals from across the country. From our table in the shade we could see groups of cattle and observe negotiations going on and the odd fight between bulls and arguments between traders. Continue reading

Urban Agriculture in Romania

11879645_1022934331074106_583476184_o-2This MSc thesis by Anamaria Alupoaie (MSc Organic Agriculture) investigated the reasons for failure of urban gardens, and the impacts of gardens on resident’s ‘sense of place’, in Dorohoi city in Romania.

Urban Agriculture plays a different role in the food system then agriculture in rural areas. In some cases, it represents a source of income or builds  sociological relations between citizens, through participation in the garden. In other cases, urban agriculture may originate from rural agricultural habits and traditions. With these inherited habits, urban farmers improve the existing environment through their practices, and with these practices they inspire others to take action in maintaining their own ‘green corners’ in the public space.

11882459_1022933601074179_396130938_oThe study was undertaken in Dorohoi region, a city situated on the north side of Romania, a small city with  31,093 inhabitants. In the last 20 years, the city experienced a period of decline due to the closure of big factories that offered jobs for more than half of the inhabitants. Since then the unemployment rate grew, and reached 80-85 %, in 2009. And it is estimated that now over 50% of the population lives below the country’s poverty line, as a result of the loss of the big industry. The availability of resources and income has triggered city dwellers to rely to a greater extent on local food production. Among the existing gardens, new ones started to flourish around the apartment buildings, in urban public spaces, and residents grew their edible greens. As such, in the area proposed for investigation, Dorohoi, urban agriculture continued through the communities of rural people that had moved into the urban center. They developed gardens in the green spaces of the city as a traditional habit inherited from their rural life. But this period of prosperity didn’t last, and about a decade ago, the city gardens were destroyed, with no significant grounds left. Continue reading

Call for papers: Re-embedding the social: New Modes of Production, Critical Consumption and Alternative Lifestyles

Food Governance

Mini-Conference at the Annual Conference for the Advancement of Socio-Economics (SASE)—berkeley/mini-conferences_fr_232.html#MC13

Mini Conference Title: ‘Re-embedding the social: New Modes of Production, Critical Consumption and Alternative Lifestyles’

Location: Berkeley, University of California

Date: June 24-26, 2016

Mini-conference organisers: Francesca Forno, Lara Monticelli, Torsten Geelan, and Paolo R. Graziano.

Extended abstract: approx. 1000 words to be submitted through the SASE website, clearly stating that you wish to be considered for this mini-conference (

Deadline for abstracts submission : 18th January 2016 

Expected output: edited collection or special issue

Extra-conference activity: visiting/dining at a local co-operative/eco-village (tbc)

Any questions: email (

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