BSc/MSc thesis topics: Where is the rural?

The classic nineteenth century thinkers devoted comparatively little attention to the rural, concentrating their work on the coincidence of urban-industrial as the modern spatial and socio-economic ‘setting’ of modern life. While the urban-industrial was considered contemporary and developed, dynamic and  active, modern and progressive, the rural was looked upon as archaic and backward, static and passive, traditional and conservative. The rural emerged as a residual category of our thinking of modern society.

Over time rural sociology has been plagued by the question what the rural is? Some have argued that the rural (and for that matter the urban) is a socio-spatial category: the space of agriculture. However such definitions are intrinsically instable, since the occupational basis of rural populations has become loosely connected with agriculture. Attempts to differentiate the rural and the urban on basis of other social characteristics as population size and density also proofed to be untenable. Others have argued that the urban ‘exploded’  into the countryside and the world we live in has become one of planetary urbanization, leaving us behind with the question where the rural has gone to?

We are looking for students who are interested in doing a BSc/MSc thesis study into the question of the what and where the rural is. Questions that can be explored are: How has the rural been defined in sociological theory; what socio-spatial constructions of the rural have been made? Is there still place for an idea of the ‘rural’ in ‘planetary urbanization’? To what extend is our thinking ensnared by the words ‘rural’ and ‘urban’, forcing us to think in highly problematic analytical and empirical categories?

Students interested have the choice to deal with these questions in different ways and from various perspectives. Depending on your interest you can do a literature research into past and present of defining the rural, empirical research into constructions of the rural, or delve into theory, for example by exploring the thinking of Deleuze or Lefebvre for developing new ‘vocabularies’ or notions of socio-spatiality.

Interested or looking for more information? Please contact Joost Jongerden at or Leeuwenborch room 3027


Localizing Urban Food Strategies – Farming cities and performing rurality: call for abstracts for the 7th AESOP Sustainable Food Planning Conference

The 7th Aesop Sustainable Food Planning (SFP) Conference entitled “Localizing Urban Food Strategies: Farming cities and performing rurality” will take place in Torino (Italiy) from 7 to 9 October 2015.

Localizing urban food strategies refers to embedding sustainable food planning issues in place and in time within each specific local context. Moreover, by targeting planners, agronomists, designers, geographers, administrators, activists etc. engaged in the urban food debate, Farming cities and performing rurality aims at representing a platform for the development of fruitful perspectives for sustainable food planning policies and practices.

On the one hand, Farming cities refers to the development of innovative roles for agricultural production in and around the city, approaching in a structural manner the way agricultural issues are dealt (or should be dealt) with in contemporary urban policies. On the other hand, Performing rurality considers urban food strategies as a tool to define a cooperating relationship between the urban and the rural, reversing in terms of equality the traditional ideological subordination of the countryside to the city.

The activities of the Conference will be articulated around the following tracks: (i) Spatial planning and urban design, (ii) Governance and private entrepreneurship, (iii) Relevant experiences and practices, (iv) Training and jobs, (v) Flows and networks. There will be a specific activity for PhD students and young scholars.

Abstracts for one of the aforementioned tracks can be submitted until the 31st of May via the submission form on the conference website.

Summer School on Food Safety and Food Security in Europe: A multi-level educational perspective.

Originally posted on Food Governance:

This summer I will have the pleasure of lecturing on food policy at a summer school hosted in Brescia, Italy. The theme of the school is Food Safety and Food Security in Europe: A multi-level educational perspective.

There are just a few spots left for the course. For more information, check out this Brochure.

It runs from July 6-10, 2015 and covers a diverse but interrelated range of themes including:

  • Framing food security
  • Food safety
  • Determinants of health
  • Food waste

It also includes a visit to Expo 2015 in Milan.


View original

Training weekend: Activating for Food Sovereignty: from our Daily Lives to Global Change

Rural Sociology, with Otherwise, FIAN, ILEIA, TNI, and Toekomstboeren, are coordinating a training weekend: Activating for Food Sovereignty: from our Daily Lives to Global Change. Register now!

WHEN: June 5th, 6th and 7th

The training weekend will take place on the organic farm Buitenverwachting near Leiden and is meant for both students, practitioners and (prospective) farmers who are interested in deepening their knowledge of food sovereignty, agroecology and the human right to food.

Through interactive discussions, workshops and practical exercises on the farm, we will reflect on our current food system, traditional roles of producers and consumers and barriers to food sovereignty. Various guest speakers will share their knowledge and experiences.

The training weekend takes place from Friday evening to Sunday afternoon. The price includes food and shared accommodation (you will need to bring your own mat and sleeping bag). You can also bring your own tent. There is space for a limited amount of 35 participants. The selection of participants will be based on your question about food sovereignty which we ask you to formulate on the admission form.

Boerderij Buitenverwachting
Vlietkade 2
2355 CR Hoogmade

Costs: € 50 (€ 35 for students/low income participants)

Check out the program.

Fill in the registration form.

For more information contact FIAN Nederland at 020-7700435 or send an e-mail to Julia Boulton

Eco Intensive Agriculture Conference proceedings

The proceedings of the Eco Intensive Agriculture Conference are available at the website of the Netherlands Institute of Ecology (NIOO-KNAW). Rural Sociology was represented by our chair prof. Han Wiskerke and Jessica Duncan (Food Governance).

Jessica Duncan’s Pecha Kucha (a presentation of 6:20 with a series of 20 slides that change every 20 seconds) was called ‘Governing the Doughnut: the role of scientists in transformations towards sustainable food systems‘, watch the video above.

Han Wiskerke was one of the six key note speakers, presenting ‘Eco-intensive agriculture and the provision of public goods‘. All six key note speakers were asked to make short statements on four questions and this was recorded. These short video are also available at the NIOO website. Below the answer to question 4: What step is needed now?

Sustainable solutions in the supply chain could be worth €10,000!

Originally posted on Food Governance:

The Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition is a food think tank based in Milan. Their Young Earth Solutions! student contest is open and they are looking for project ideas that make our food system more sustainable.

Deadline: 31st May 2015

Prize: €10,000

See this article from the Food Tank for more details.

Barilla Challenge

View original

The tourist gaze and the performance of place and identity: a MSC thesis research in Mexico

Some 40 years ago, in ancient times of analogue cameras and film roles with a capacity of 24 pictures, Sontag already described the compulsion that humans have to photograph. As caught in a ‘sovereign power of the gaze’, our contemporary societies are fundamentally bound to the circulation of objects and technologies (Larsen 2006: 245). This results in 350 million pictures that will be  uploaded on Facebook today. Over 127 billion photos will be shared on Facebook by the end of this year. From selfies taken with selfie-sticks to party-pics and millions of holiday snapshots, ‘[…]everything seems to exists to end in a photograph’ (Sontag 1973: 24).

I am in San Cristóbal de Las Casas in Chiapas, Mexico, to gain insight in how identities are constructed in tourism practices and how these tourism performances produce power geometries. Research is conducted in the ‘most visited’ indigenous village northwest of the city, San Juan Chamula. On busy weekends, hundreds of tourists visit the village in the mountains. Most of them come on organized tours from San Cristóbal, to ‘experience traditional, indigenous life’, according to the brochure of a local travel agency.

It is impossible to envision tourism without seeing the prominent place of the visual in this industry. Photography turns the (tourism) experience itself into a way of seeing and having an (tourism) experience becomes identical with taking a photograph of it’. (Sontag 1973: 15). According to Sontag, ‘tourism becomes a strategy to accumulate photographs in which the essence is to gaze upon the already pictorial’ (ibid: 9). This so-called tourist gaze is corporeally performed and enacted, among other by the act of photography.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGazing is a corporeal practice in where sights are interpreted and bodily (and emotionally) sensed. These individual gazes are influenced by ‘pre-constructed’ images and are always embedded in structural realities. This results in a whole range of different tourism performances at the tourism stage. The gaze is also bodily practiced through the performance of taking pictures. Bodies move into better photo-angles, they wait for other people to move out of the framed image and knees hurt from kneeling down on concrete pavements. On the other side of the lens, the subjects that are focused on are forced into particular performances. They put on their smile, hide the can of soft drink behind their backs and quickly put their arms around their children to ‘act family life’ (Larson 2005). The picture, made in a split second, freezes a whole range of consciously staged tourist performances. These picture-taking practices consume touristic sights while they produce them through the same performances. The process of making pictures is a cautious act that could be seen as a representative construction of the actor, or how the actor wants to be perceived by the audience and by the self. These 350 million uploaded pictures are ‘frozen’ performances and Facebook is one of the many stages on where identities are enacted.

But the eye is not pure and innocent (Larsen 2006: 245). Eyes see the world in particular orders, shaped and classified in specific socio-cultural frames, through particular materialities. San Juan Chamula, as ‘toured’ by hundreds of tourists nowadays, is embedded in a historical context of colonialism and centuries of oppression of indigenous people and their customs. The tourist gaze is embedded in these power realities and (unconsciously) performed through these relations. Tourists and local indigenous people enact their (ethnic) identities through tourism practices, and their identities are enacted through tourism interactions.

What are the photos that tourists (like to) make and could these pictures give insight in how identities are constructed and how power structures are enacted through these performances? As a methodology, interviews with tourists are structured based on their own pictures made during their tours to the indigenous villages. Questions in these photo-interviews try to elicit the informants to reflect and explain why particular pictures are taken and how they interpret the displayed images. These interviews, which are perceived as performances as well, shows how identities of others and selfs are constructed through the particular tourism practice of photo-taking. The objective of this study is to see how performances within tourism practices construct certain identities and how these performances produce power geometries.

            ‘I like to make photos of the children on the street because although you can definitely see they are poor they seem to be happy. We are always complaining but I realize now how good we have it back home, right? This explanation was given in an photo-interview after asking why the informant had made so many pictures of street-vending children. An explanation that gives insight in the construction of others and selfs through performances, and the power structures that are embedded in the relations that people engage in the guise of tourism.

350 Million pictures on Facebook uploaded every day made me wonder: how many young street-vendors from San Juan Chamula can be found on the Facebook profiles of tourists? Not ‘tagged’ in the picture even though they are ‘liked’ because they seem so happy?

Sacha Buisman, 27-4-2015


Larsen, J.

2005    Families Seen Sightseeing: Performativity of Tourist Photography. Space and Culture 8(4): 416-434.

Larsen, J.

2006    Geographies of Tourist Photography: Choreographies and Performances.

Sontag, S.

1973    On Photography. New York: Rosetta Books.


Pecha Kucha: Governing the Doughnut

Originally posted on Food Governance:

Today I gave a Pecha Kucha. A Pecha Kucha is a presentation of 6:20 with a series of 20 slides that change every 20 seconds. It is an unforgiving format that is admittedly probably engaging and potentially energizing for the audience but as a speaker it offers no space to engage with, or respond to, the audience and no room for error in your speech as the slides keep rolling even if you are not quite ready for them to! I get the appeal and the value but for an academic presentation, this is a terrifying format. Indeed, I found it so challenging to frame an academic paper/idea this way that I instead opted to give what amounts to more of a political speech.

I struggled to develop my talk for today, more so than any talk I have given in recent (maybe even distant) memory. I was intimidated by…

View original 712 more words

Alternative Food Networks in Calabria – PhD-thesis Simona D’Amico

Simona cover PhDApril 28, 2015 at 11.00 am Simona D’Amico will publicly defend her PhD-thesis ‘Alternative Food Networks (AFNs) in Calabria. A sociological exploration of interaction dynamics‘ in the Auditorium of Wageningen University. The defence ceremony will be streamed live by WURTV but can be viewed later as well. A pdf copy of the thesis can be downloaded from Wageningen Library, but is under embargo till April 28.

The PhD-thesis aims at advancing the understanding of identities and roles of non-mainstream food systems. It focuses on AFNs which operate in the context of rather traditional agrifood systems, engage in both food provisioning and raising civic awareness, and collaborate with a wide range of actors, such as producers, consumers, civil society organisations and institutions. In particular, the research studies an AFN – GAS M – in Calabria – Southern Italy – by shedding light on the dynamics of interaction during the organisation and implementation of its activities.

Exploring the integration of school gardens – MSc-thesis by Blair van Pelt

Dowtown Teaching farm in Idaho (photo the Downtown Teaching Farm

Downtown Teaching Farm in Boise, Idaho. Photo credit: The Downtown Teaching Farm.

School gardens are sprouting up everywhere these days, yet little is known about how they can be used as a teaching tool here in the Netherlands. School gardens are common in elementary schools, yet rare in secondary schools.

For her MSc-thesis Exploring how school gardens are integrated into secondary schools, Blair van Pelt has looked at 9 examples in the United States and the Netherlands where a garden or greenhouse is successfully being used as a teaching tool in secondary education. These examples were examined along practical, structural and ideological lines of questioning. What emerged from the cases is that school gardens can be used to teach, both theoretical knowledge and practical skills.

Inside the greenhouse at the Sage School, Hailey (Idaho)

Inside the greenhouse, Sage School in Hailey (Idaho)

Secondary school gardens facilitate learning in a community of practice and are a microcosm of civic ecology. In addition to being a fun way to teach science and other subjects, they give students an opportunity to participate in, and contribute to their communities in a result-oriented and hands-on manner that connects both local and global social and ecological issues.

Agriculture school garden in Apeldoorn (NL)

Agriculture school garden in Apeldoorn (NL)

Additionally, it emerged that the needs, goals, opportunities and challenges of a secondary school garden are different and evolve depending on which stage of development the school garden is in; from which, a new theory sprouted.

The MSc-thesis provides an in-depth look into the nine examples of successful school gardens in secondary education and provides recommendations that are meant to provide guidance and serve as an inspiration for aspiring schools and policy makers.

For more information contact Blair van Pelt: