Thesis opportunity: food banks as contested spaces for identity struggles

In general a person’s identity has cognitive-descriptive (C), normative-ethical (N) and affective-emotional qualities (A). Besides a person’s identity, a person can find him or herself to be in a certain position or have a certain status, and a person can have certain (un)officially assigned roles, tasks and functions. See the figure below. These three elements can ‘agree’, or be ‘in line’ with each other, but they can also diverge from each other, or be ‘in conflict’.

Plaatje fb identity

These distinctions are to a certain extent superficial: they are analytical distinctions. In that capacity they can help us discover different elements and qualities of peoples’ experiences. Moreover, a person’s identity is not once and for all a ‘given’. Identities develop and keep doing so in interaction with other people: first with primary caretakers and later with a host of significant others who also have an identity, certain roles and functions, a certain position or status, and corresponding expectations towards others.

In this MSc thesis proposal this interaction is taken to be located at the food bank where volunteers distribute food parcels among recipients. Volunteers and recipients have short or longer conversations about the food parcels and/or the reasons for being there at the food bank. In scientific literature on food banks it is an almost unquestioned assumption that the food bank is a charity organisation, very often inspired by religious ideas or values of love and kindness for fellow human beings in need, and an attitude of gratefulness and humility on the side of the recipient. A sociological understanding of charity would indeed point at these expected roles, functions and attitudes that the concept of charity implies. The general research question of this proposal is: To what extent is this general, unquestioned assumption supported by evidence?

Sub-questions are:

  • What are feelings and emotions towards, and what are normative opinions of volunteers and recipients about the existence of food banks and their activities?
  • To what extent do recipients experience discrepancies between the status in which they, (in)voluntarily, find themselves, and the way in which they see themselves or would like to see themselves? (In other words: to what extent do we see conflicts between the three elements in the figure above?)

Proposed research methods are participatory observations, interviews with volunteers and recipients, identity tests and conversation analysis. Starting literature is available.

The thesis will be supervised by Leon Pijnenburg (Philosophy) and Esther Veen (Rural Sociology). Interested? Contact Jessica de Koning: jessica.dekoning@wur.nl.

Knowledge clips reading for the social sciences

Students often ask us how they should read a scientific paper or book chapter, and what they should learn or remember from them. They may struggle with what they see to be too many readings, or express that they have difficulty understanding the main message of the articles we assign for our lectures.

In order to help students make the process of ‘reading for the social sciences’ more efficient and more targeted, Jessica Duncan and me (Esther Veen) designed four knowledge clips to pass on little tips.

The first one discusses the structure most sociological papers follow. In the second we give suggestions on how to read effectively. The third is on the different strategies you may use when you read for different purposes, and the last gives tips and tricks on how to keep track of your reading.

You can watch the clips here. You are welcom to send your feedback to jessica.duncan@wur.nl or esther.veen@wur.nl.

Welcome Kees Jansen – Scholar in Critical Agrarian Studies

My name is Kees Jansen. A few weeks ago, I have started in my new job at the Rural Sociology Group. I am very honoured that I can contribute to the international development profile of the group and teach in the domain of critical agrarian studies. Rural Sociology is an exciting group with a long history of remarkable work on redesigning the agro-food system and developing a social justice perspective in agrarian and food policies.

My teaching activities will mainly focus on the courses Sociology of Farming and Rural Life, Globalization and Sustainability of Food Production and Consumption, and Advanced Social Theory.

Latin America is the region where I have done most of my own field work, but shorter stays in a number of Asian and African countries have been important for grasping the significance of comparative research. By working on an organic farm in France, by living with small potato producers high in Andes and with maize-bean producers in Honduras, through interviewing export crop producers in Costa Rica and Mexico, and by visiting farmer co-operatives in the Philippines, I have experienced the multiple pressures on different types of farmers in this globalizing world. In the Rural Sociology Group I will continue my research activities on agrarian political ecology (the greening of the agrarian question; nature-society issues), pesticide risk governance, and theoretical issues in agrarian studies.

The latest examples of my work have just been published in Global Environmental Politics: Business Conflict and Risk Regulations: Understanding the Influence of the Pesticide Industry  (sorry, not yet open access) and in the Journal of Agrarian Change with Jaye de la Cruz: Panama disease and contract farming in the Philippines: Towards a political ecology of risk – open access).

The interesting aspect of doing sociology in Wageningen is the unique opportunity to collaborate with natural scientists on analysing social-technical configurations. Besides my own more specific research topics, I am always interested in exploring new, creative and challenging ideas of prospective thesis students and PhD candidates within the broader domain where international development studies and agrarian studies intersect. Examples are labour conditions of a flexible (often migrant) labour force, the social conditions for agroecology, social responses to risks of agricultural technologies, counter-expertise and social movements, people’s adaptation to climate change, agribusiness strategies, the future of corporate social responsibility, hunger and food security, sociology and politics of knowledge (including interdisciplinarity), autonomy/dependence in agrarian change, and comparative analysis of food sovereignty actions in the Global South. You can read more about me and my work on my website: www.keesjansen.eu.

Do not hesitate to contact me at kees.jansen@wur.nl to talk about your ideas.

Drijfveren, waarden en praktijken van eerste generatie boeren – MSc thesis onderzoek Laura Genello

Laura Genello, student MSc Organic Agriculture van Wageningen University, doet een vergelijkend onderzoek naar eerste generatie boeren in Nederland en de staat Maryland in USA. Eerste generatieboeren zijn zij die geen familiebedrijf hebben overgenomen, maar toch op de een of andere manier zijn begonnen met boeren. Zie haar website Beginning farmers research voor meer informatie (in Engels). Daarop staat ook de online vragenlijst met een Nederlandse en Engelse versie.

Laura wil onderzoeken of deze instromers bepaalde ideeën en waarden over hoe goed te boeren met elkaar delen en in hoeverre ze die in praktijk weten te brengen. Laura heeft een online vragenlijst gemaakt die ingevuld kan worden door personen die in het profiel passen. Hier vindt u de Nederlandse versie van de online vragenlijst. Mocht u zelf een eerste generatie boer zijn dan kunt u de vragenlijst zelf invullen. Mocht u iemand kennen die hier aan voldoet, dan mag u de link doorsturen.

U kunt ook uiteraard ook contact opnemen met Laura Genello: laura.genello@wur.nl

Thesis option: food in suburbia

The CBS (Dutch Bureau for Statistics) has shown that many young families are leaving the city, looking for more space and more affordable housing. These families often want to stay close to the city and therefore move to neighbouring towns or suburban areas. What does this mean for their food provisioning strategies? Where do these people buy most of their food and to what extent are they constrained by what is on offer locally? To what extent to they (still) use the city for their food provisioning, such as going out to dinner or visiting specialty shops? To what extent is such ‘urban food’ available in suburban areas? And how does this relate to people’s lifestyles and identities?

The urban food landscape is in constant transition, but we do not clearly know how people engage with their everyday food planning – where do they go, what choices do they make, and what practical considerations do they take into account? Answering such questions will help us better understand people’s food provisioning practices, and how to make these practices more sustainable and healthy.

We are looking for a thesis student interested in these questions, and willing to do a thesis with the Rural Sociology Group, starting spring 2018. Interested? Send a short motivation to esther.veen@wur.nl and anke.devrieze@wur.nl.

Thesis option: exploring the gentrifying foodscape

The Amsterdamsestraatweg, a street in Utrecht, is known for its kebab take-away restaurants, hairdressers and massage salons. During the last years, however, businesses along the street are changing due to gentrification. ‘Hipster bars’ and vintage furniture shops are appearing. A similar process is happening at the Javastraat in Amsterdam.

The urban food landscape is in constant transition, but we do not clearly know how people engage with their everyday food planning – where do they go, what choices do they make, and what practical considerations do they take into account? Answering such questions will help us better understand people’s food provisioning practices, and how to make these practices more sustainable and healthy.

The Rural Sociology Group is looking for a student interested in exploring one or both of the changing foodscapes (Amsterdamsestraatweg / Javastraat). What kind of people are visiting these food places? Do the same people make use of the full variety, or do the kebab places and the hipster bars (as the two extremes) attract different groups of people? Where do the customers of both types of food places live? What do their food provisioning practices look like, and what is important to them when consuming food?

We are looking for one or two thesis students interested in these questions, and willing to do a thesis with the Rural Sociology Group, starting spring 2018. Interested? Send a short motivation to esther.veen@wur.nl and anke.devrieze@wur.nl.

Thesismogelijkheid: Tuinieren voor kankerpatienten

Due to the nature of this thesis, which involves speaking to Dutch former cancer patients, this thesis is only available for Dutch speaking students.

Voor het project Healing Gardens (zie www.healinggardenswur.nl) ben ik op zoek naar een student die een thesis wil schrijven bij de leerstoelgroep Rurale Sociologie.

Healing Gardens is een samenwerking van Rurale Sociologie en Humane Voeding. Doel van het project is onderzoeken in hoeverre tuinieren bijdraagt aan de kwaliteit van leven van ex-kankerpatiënten. Tussen april en september 2017 hebben we een pilot onderzoek uitgevoerd, waarbij 6 patiënten hebben getuinierd in Almere. De pilot was onderdeel van onderzoeksprogramma’s van AMS (Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Metropolitan Solutions) en de Flevocampus.

De deelnemers hebben tijdens de pilot aan drie meetronden meegedaan – aan het begin, in het midden en aan het einde. Vanuit Rurale Sociologie hebben we de deelnemers gevraagd naar hun verwachtingen, in hoeverre die uitkwamen, sociale relaties en lotgenotencontact. Ik ben nu op zoek naar een student om deze interviews te analyseren en daar een thesis over te schrijven. Daarnaast kun je zelf extra data verzamelen. Hiervoor zijn meerdere opties, afhankelijk van je eigen interesse. Voorbeelden zijn follow-up interviews met de deelnemers, of interviews met deelnemers van andere lotgenotencontact-groepen, om de verschillen tussen verscheidene vormen van lotgenotencontact te onderzoeken.

De thesis kan vanaf april beginnen. Geïnteresseerd? Stuur een korte motivatie naar esther.veen@wur.nl.

Healing gardens in a video

In an earlier post I talked about our pilot project Healing Gardens, which had just started: six (former) cancer patients were gardening under supervision of two enthusiastic volunteers, at Parkhuys (a cancer support center) in Almere. The aim of the pilot was to prepare for a larger study in which we hope to find out to what extent gardening is a useful way to increase physical activity, stimulate healthy eating patterns, and function as effective social peer support.

This pilot has now ended. It has been successful in the sense that the patients really enjoyed the activity. Almost all of them have taken up gardening at home – two of them have even rented an allotment together. Also, the pilot gave us valuable insights which we will use when starting the lager study: the gardening containers were considered too small by most participants, for instance, and it is extremely important to have access to knowledgeable garden supervisors. Currently we are analyzing our results – during the course of the pilot gardeners were interviewed three times, filled out different questionnaires and participated in various fitness tests. We expect the results early 2018.

One of our project partners, Jan Eelco Jansma, explains the aims of our study in more detail in a video. You can also visit our website for more information: www.healinggardenswur.nl. Sorry, both are in Dutch. Healing Gardens is a cooperation between Rural Sociology, Human Nutrition, and applied plant sciences, and supported by the Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Metropolitan Solutions and Flevocampus.

Planning for Equitable Urban and Regional Food Systems

There is a new Special Issue of the journal “Built Environment” on the topic of Planning for Equitable Urban and Regional Food Systems.

The Special Issues starts from the question: How does and can planning and design enhance the freedom and wellbeing of marginalized actors in the food system – low-income residents, people of colour, small-holder farmers, and refugees – the very people the alternative food movements purport to serve?

In the Special Issue authors from across the Global North and South explore the role of planning and design in communities’ food systems, while explicitly considering the imbalances in equity, justice, and power.

The collection includes a paper by former Rural Sociology MSc student Maria Vasile and Jessica Duncan.

We want to be part of the broader project’ Family Farmers and Local Food Governance in Porto Alegre, Brazil

Brazil has been praised for the development of its agricultural sector, its policies against hunger, and its support for family farming. Yet, the future of small-scale family farmers remains uncertain. In this paper, we question whether food system localization facilitates the integration of small-scale family farmers into food governance processes in Porto Alegre, Brazil. To answer this, we present the City Region Food System (CRFS) as a conceptual approach to explore the relationship between food systems localization and enhanced participation of small-scale family farmers in food governance. After introducing the case study of local food in Porto Alegre, we highlight key structural inequalities that limit family farmers’ participation in local food practices and influence their involvement in food governance. We then examine linkages between local food policy efforts and family farmers’ praxis, attempting to discern mismatches and related implications for the development of an inclusive CRFS. We argue that systematization of local food practices within the city region represents a double-edged sword as it may
translate into a decrease in farmers’ autonomy and ownership of local initiatives and burden them with regulations not fit for purpose. In conclusion, we suggest that a CRFS approach to planning can help to address structural inequalities and power asymmetries in local food governance only if informed by local dynamics and based on context-sensitive mechanisms for participatory governance incorporating a variety of small-scale family farmers (and other stakeholders).

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