75th Anniversary: 47) Research at Rural Sociology:  Gender and rural development in Europe – once upon a time and now

Bettina Bock

Once upon a time.

It is almost 44 years since my first research project; it considered the position of women in non-academic positions at the University of Nijmegen. More studies into gender and professions followed; in academia and public service, as well as technical and assumedly masculine occupations such as woodwork and firefighters, and eventually farming.

Women farmers stole my heart – first in Italy and later in the Netherlands when working on my PhD on the role of women in rural development practice and policy. They were so creative and courageous, developing new business activities and conquering a position in a sector in desperate need of transition but often so stubbornly holding on to conventions. In this case, the conventional image and success formula of the male farmer running his farm as a modern business striving to increase production and growth, with the farmwife offering assistance. In the early 90s, some women stood up against these beliefs – men being the head of the farms and farming as regular businesses interested in increasing production and profit. There were women pioneers innovating agriculture by initiating a new model and paradigm of farm diversification and multifunctionality. They introduced new income-generating activities and created new markets with direct communication between producers and consumers. In doing so, these women farmers and their partners developed new knowledge and skills and adapted their agricultural production methods, with less monocultural and more environmentally friendly production methods. Hence, women significantly contributed to the continuity of farming financially through such new business activities, others by gaining off-farm income. Initially, the turn towards diversification and multifunctionality met a lot of criticism and suspicion by mainstream farmers and the farm union – this was not real farming anymore, they said. Or this meant the end of agriculture as a real business and profession. As a result, many women farmers downplayed their activities as hobbies or downplayed the importance of their money. In time, however, the success of these new businesses became evident, and multifunctional agriculture became formally recognised even by the farm unions.

In academia, the role of women in multifunctional farming was cherished in two ways: first as a proof of long due empowerment and recognition of the vital role of women in agriculture; second as one of the elements of the transition of farming, with multifunctionality, high-quality production and direct marketing as the way forward, and thirdly as proof of the sustainability of family farming. Studies into gender relations in agriculture confirmed the presence of more equal gender relations on farms engaged in diversified productions and novel production methods. The situation is quite different in most production-oriented farms that remained conventional also in terms of gender relations. The political interest in women farmers diminished over time, at least at the national level. The EU continued to call attention to the position of rural women, stressing their vulnerability and the importance of strengthening their position in farming and rural areas. However, gender agriculture and rural development did not figure prominently in public, political or academic debates for a long time – in Europe. In international development debates, this was quite different, and gender remained a prominent issue and target of policymakers, donors and academics. Women were presented as important actors, able to enhance production and warrant food security, yet needing support to overcome traditions and realise their potential. Maybe, the global South was again ahead of the North when it came to gender debates – as they were when research into gender and agriculture took place in Europe in the seventies.

Most recently, the interest in gender and rural development seems to be reawakening also in Europe. Looking into a recently published HORIZON, the EU expresses high hopes for women’s engagement in innovations. They expect women to ensure the future of agriculture and rural areas and significantly contribute to climate change mitigation and, hence, our future. It is interesting to see that women who figured in agricultural and rural policies so far, mainly as a vulnerable group, become suddenly framed as our saviours. However, as the EU calls for ways to boost women’s innovations, women are still expected to need a hand to realise their potential, with many hurdles arising from what we may best identify as institutionalised sexism.

What does that mean for academics like me who have fallen for these amazing women who experiment with new ideas, innovate new products and methods, and institutions? Should we worry about their instrumentalisation, as some warn us (reference)? I always have difficulty with that argument – because are we instrumentalised if we choose to do what needs to be done? Do we not all carry the responsibility to be instruments in the realisation of a better world? And is women’s agency to innovate against all odds not in itself transforming structures, identities and relations, self-empowering? Is innovation, hence, not their instrument of empowerment? Yes, they deserve more respect, reward, and support. What they do is valuable and critical, and we need to ensure their engagement has an impact.

In my view, it is not up to me as a researcher to protect women from instrumentalisation. However, I can be of more assistance when understanding what drives, enables and hinders them and where change is essential to realise their potential. The transformation of gender relations is part and parcel of that process, be it explicitly or implicitly. We should also not forget that women do not necessarily view their actions as individual or independent; farm women often feel part of the family business, and many collaborate with others and men. The latter does not make gender equality less relevant yet nuances women’s interest in gender transformation. And what about the kind of innovations in which women engage? Many are novel, of course, but not all are about agroecology or climate change. Or that might not be the leading motive. Women’s primary reason is often to assure the business’s profitability, and not all they do is good for the environment. Does that mean we should then not support their initiatives and engagement in innovation? Do women only as saviours deserve support? The right of agenda-setting is another matter to consider. Which issues should politics and science address, and when are women ‘invited’ to join? Even formulating the question is awkward as, of course, women have the right to set the agenda. Reality is more complex. Generally, interest groups are involved in such negotiations, and as studies report time and again, women farmers are hardly represented in farm organisations.

Intriguing questions that are difficult to answer. As an academic, I might argue that my first task is to understand how innovations emerge when ‘female’ agency fights traditional structures, irrespective of their motive. On a more personal note, I believe it is our responsibility as scientists, policymakers, and practitioners to choose which innovations to support, whether promoted by men or women. In today’s world, it is irresponsible to support innovations that add to the problem of climate change and social injustice.

Some suggestions for overviews of rural gender literature

  • Asztalos Morell I. and BB. Bock (2008) (eds), Gender regimes, citizen participation and rural restructuring, Elsevier: Rural Sociology and Development Series, pp. 3-30
  • Bock B.B. and S. Shortall (2006) (eds), Rural Gender Relations: Issues and case- studies, Oxfordshire: CABI
  • Bock, B.B. and S. Shortall (2017) (eds), Gender and rural globalisation: international perspectives on gender and rural development, Oxfordshire: CABI
  • Bock, B.B. and M. van der Burg (2017), Gender and international development, in B.B. Bock and S. Shortall (eds) Gender and rural globalisation: international perspectives on gender and rural development, Oxfordshire: CABI
  • Bock B.B. (2016), The Rural, in: I. van der Tuin (ed.), MacMillan Interdisciplinary Handbooks: Gender, volume 2: Nature, MacMillan, 199-216
  • Cornwall, A. , E. Harrison and A. Whitehead (2007) (eds),. Gender myths and feminist fables: the struggle for interpretive power. Gender and Development, 38(1998) (special issue)
  • Mohanty, C.T. (2003), Feminism without borders; decolonizing theory, practicing solidarity, Durham & London:  Duke University Press (reprint from 1984)
  • Pini B., B. Brandth and J. Little (2015) (eds). Feminisms and Ruralities. London: Lexington Book
  • Plas van der L. and M. Fonte (1994) (eds). Rural gender studies in Europe. Assen: van Gorcum
  • Sachs C. (2019) (ed.), Gender, agriculture and agrarian transformations, changing relations in Africa, Latin America and Asia: London: Routlegde, Taylor & Francis Group
  • Shortall S. and B.B. Bock (2015) (eds) Rural, gender and policy; Rural women in Europe: the impact of place and culture on gender mainstreaming the European Rural Development Programme; Gender, Place and Culture, 22(5), special issue

Thesis/research internship: Connecting producers and consumers through local grassroots initiatives: the case of the Tiny Restaurant

The Tiny Restaurant in Laarbeek

This thesis/research internship opportunity is a part of a broader Science Shop project evaluating the Tiny Restaurant initiative. The Tiny Restaurant is a pop-up restaurant deployed at various places (such as schools, sports clubs, village squares) with the goal to bring diverse groups of people together around locally produced, sustainable, artisanal and seasonal food. This initiative was started by Stichting MIEP, a non-governmental organization based in Laarbeek, Nord Brabant. After two years of working together with diverse groups of inhabitants (e.g. social welfare clients, school kids), Stichting MIEP is looking to evaluate how successful the Tiny Restaurant is in forging lasting producer-consumer relations.

This thesis will follow up on an ACT project during which a first assessment of the Tiny Restaurant is performed, and it will also look for similar examples (in the Netherlands or internationally) of grassroots initiatives working to connect producers and consumers. The broad questions the research should tackle are:

  • How can rural grass-roots initiatives contribute to connecting local producers and citizens?
  • What strategies have been used (successfully or not) to make local food and its producers more visible?
  • How does the Tiny Restaurant contribute to lasting bonds between local producers and citizens?

Project duration: September 2021 – May 2022

For more information contact Lucie Sovová lucie.sovova@wur.nl

75th Anniversary: 46) Research at Rural Sociology: The everyday political economy of rural livelihoods in South and Southeast Asia

Mark Vicol

How do rural people make their livelihoods? What determines who prospers and who is left behind? How should we study and understand rural development and agrarian change? These questions are core to critical development studies of Global South countries with significant rural populations. The answers, however, often reflect deeply held ontological and epistemological differences and assumptions about what counts and what doesn’t (or what’s important and what isn’t) in the analysis of rural development. Despite parallel developments in social theory in recent decades to bridge these divides (e.g. Elder-Vass 2010), approaches to rural development in low-income countries tend to fall in one of two camps: those that emphasize structure; and those that privilege agency. Although there are exceptions that integrate across analytical approaches, two exemplars of this agency/structure divide in development studies are actor-oriented livelihoods analysis, and agrarian political economy. Each has been critiqued and often dismissed by the other for what they don’t do: livelihood or actor-oriented approaches critique agrarian political economists on grounds of determinism and for discounting the diversity of practices and actors at the micro level; while agrarian political economy dismisses livelihoods research for its failure to account for broader relations of power, production, reproduction and property. Both approaches also imply rather different outcomes for policy or praxis: the former focuses on increasing autonomy and individual choice; the latter focuses on the role of the state and/or class-based political movements.

According to Scoones (2015: 37), this debate is summarized by the question “what is more important: what people actually do or the factors that constrain or enable their actions?” This question has animated my research on small farming, rural development and agrarian change in South and Southeast Asia over the last decade. My research shows that not only, as Scoones notes, is the answer to this question quite obviously neither, but also that we can consider both livelihoods (agency) and political economy (structure) simultaneously in studies of rural development. The shortcomings of each approach correctly identified by the other should not be taken as further encouragement to retreat into theoretical or methodological fortresses. Instead, I argue it is possible to productively combine the contextual richness of livelihood approaches with the structural insights of agrarian political economy (Scoones, 2015). By moving beyond an agency/structure dualism in critical development studies, we can pay attention to both at the same time as part of the same process. Put differently, livelihoods are central to understanding agrarian change, and vice versa. We can therefore begin to ask questions such as what does it mean to be a poor or rich rural household? What do the livelihood pathways of different social groups look like? How do livelihood practices produce, reproduce or challenge patterns and processes of differentiation in rural areas? And, how do broader patterns of structural change in turn act back upon livelihoods?

In fact, the rationale for combining the insights of agrarian political economy and rural livelihood analysis can be read as coming from Marx himself. In the Grundrisse (1973), Marx argues that to arrive at a concrete understanding of historical change, one must dialectically move in from the abstract towards the “many determinations and relations” that make up the whole, what Marx called the “unity of the diverse”. The core questions that inform contemporary agrarian political economy (Who owns what? Who does what? Who gets what? What do they do with it? See Bernstein, 2010) are also inherently questions about livelihoods. The idea of a combined approach that asks these questions at multiple scales is that on the one hand, a deep understanding of rural livelihoods can unpack the complexity of everyday practices, whereas political economy can make concrete the ways in which social relations at various scales shape livelihood practices and trajectories and ultimately determine patterns of winners and losers in rural spaces. I have used such an approach, what I call the everyday political economy of livelihoods, to try and understand the multiple determinations of agrarian change and the everyday experiences of such change in smallholder farming communities in India, Myanmar and Indonesia (see Vicol, 2017; Vicol, Pritchard & Htay, 2018; Vicol et al. 2018; Vicol, 2019; Vicol & Pritchard 2021).

In India, this approach was applied to explore the implications of contract farming for household livelihood trajectories and broader patterns of agrarian change. In a case study of potato contract farming in three villages in Maharashtra, a wealth ranking exercise, along with household interviews, was used to construct local understandings of differentiation (Vicol, 2017; 2019). Participants in each village constructed three ‘wealth groups’ of best off, middle and lower households, with each category associated with particular landholding patterns, income sources, balance of on- versus off-farm livelihood activities, use of wage labour, and caste. Dominant narratives around contract farming typically conceptualize it as either ‘win-win’ (for farmers and agribusiness) or ‘win-lose’ (agribusiness wins, farmers lose). My research showed that a) participation in contract farming was concentrated in the ‘middle’ group of households; and b) that rather than sparking dynamic new processes of accumulation among contract farmers or leading to new forms of exploitation, contract farming is contributing to processes of agrarian change already under way. More specifically, participation in contract farming tended to reproduce the middling livelihood trajectories of middle households, while best off households concentrate on non-farm activities for their accumulation strategies (engaging in what Gillian Hart has called ‘diversification for accumulation’). These findings challenge existing policy narratives centered around ‘value chain development’ interventions such as contract farming that promote a simplified vision of ‘market-led’ agricultural development and agrarian change.

My research in India and elsewhere demonstrates that processes of rural development and agrarian change can’t be reduced to simplified narratives. Instead, it is the complex interplay of everyday livelihood practices and social and economic structures that shape patterns of winners and losers in agrarian spaces. To paraphrase Marx (1852; see also de Haan and Zoomers, 2005), what an everyday political economy of livelihoods reveals is that rural people in the Global South do make their own livelihoods, but not necessarily under conditions of their own choosing.

References

Bernstein, H. (2010). Class dynamics of agrarian change. Halifax, Nova Scotia: Fernwood.

de Haan, L., & Zoomers, A. (2005). Exploring the frontier of livelihoods research. Development and Change, 36(1), 27–47.

Elder-Vass, D. (2010). The causal power of social structures. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Marx, K. (1852/2008). The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. New York: Cosimo.

Marx, K. (1973). Grundrisse. London: Penguin.

Scoones, I. (2015). Sustainable livelihoods and rural development. Rugby, United Kingdom: Practical Action.

Vicol, M. (2017). Is contract farming an inclusive alternative to land grabbing? The case of potato contract farming in Maharashtra, India. Geoforum, 85, 157-166.

Vicol, M. (2019). Potatoes, petty commodity producers and livelihoods: Contract farming and agrarian change in Maharashtra, India. Journal of Agrarian Change, 19(1), 135-161.

Vicol, M., Pritchard, B., & Htay, Y. (2018). Rethinking the role of agriculture as a driver of social and economic transformation in Southeast Asia’s upland regions: The view from Chin State, Myanmar. Land Use Policy, 72, 451-460.

Vicol, M., Neilson, J., Hartatri, D.F.S., & Cooper, P. (2018). Upgrading for whom? Relationship coffee, value chain interventions and rural development in Indonesia, World Development, 110, 26-37.

Vicol, M. & Pritchard, B. (2021). Rethinking rural development in Myanmar’s Ayeyarwady Delta through a historical food regimes frame. Singapore Journal of Tropical Geography, 42, 264-283.

Stage / Thesis vacature: De vegetarische voedselomgeving in Almere

Onderzoek door en onder Wageningse studenten laat zien dat een vegetarisch dieet in Wageningen grotendeels geaccepteerd is: vleesetende huisgenoten passen relatief makkelijk de avondmaaltijd aan om een vegetarisch dieet van huisgenoten te accommoderen, en juichen dit soms zelfs toe.

In het licht van de eiwittransitie is dit een hoopvolle bevinding, maar we weten ook dat Wageningse studenten een vrij specifieke doelgroep vormen. Daarom willen we dit onderzoek herhalen in Almere. Almere is een ‘gemiddelde’ stad als we het hebben over inkomen en opleidingsniveau, en kent een groot aantal nationaliteiten (en daarbij horende diëten).

Het lectoraat Stedelijke Voedselvraagstukken van Aeres Hogeschool Almere is op zoek naar een student die deze vraag wil oppakken in de vorm van een afstudeeronderzoek of stage.

Meer informatie: Esther Veen (e.veen@aeres.nl) of Anke de Vrieze (anke.devrieze@wur.nl)

75th Anniversary: 45) E.W. Hofstee and ‘Modern Environmentalism’ at WUR

Gert Spaargaren[i] (with illustrations by Emily Liang)

Modern Environmentalism’

Environmental problems are of all ages, but in historical perspective one could argue that the awareness that something can and must be done about the deterioration of soils, water and air quality is of rather recent origin. In his book on ‘modern environmentalism’, David Pepper (1984, 1996)[ii] identified three landmark publications that expounded the principle ideas of ‘modern environmentalism’ as emerging from the 1970s onward.

First and most important has been the ‘Limits to Growth’ report to the Club of Rome (Meadows et al, 1972)[iii]. With hindsight, this MIT[iv]-based modelling of the planetary limits to industrial societies must be regarded as the single most important trigger for environmentalism to become a permanent issue both for politicians and citizens around the world. It was ‘modern’ environmentalism since the report was science based and because it urged key actors in society to take their responsibility for a common future at risk. Secondly, the ‘Blueprint for Survival’ (Ecologist, 1973), a special issue of a journal published by the emerging environmental social movements in the UK, has been an important trigger. The ‘new social movements’ in the UK and Germany in particular aimed at translating the  Club of Rome message to the local (UK; EU) situation. They did so by translating the call for ‘limits to growth’ into a design for a strictly closed loops oriented, local, de-central, bounded network of eco-communities, sharing and caring for natural resources in a way we would later on come to refer to as ‘sustainable’ or ‘circular’. To underpin their design of the Blueprint Society with socio-cultural, economic and political arguments, they heavily relied on the third major source of modern environmentalism: Fritz Schumachers’  ‘Small is Beautiful’ book series (Schumacher, 1973; 1979)[v]. Schumacher was an enlightened British economist who resigned from a leading position in the energy (coal) sector to dedicate the rest of his life to the promotion of a radically different kind of society. His books became popular around the world and in the late 1980s, Schumacher himself came over to Wageningen to address a lecture hall[vi] filled with eager and critical students to discuss his core idea that recognizing limits to growth should lead one to consider new, small-scale, local, size-limited forms of (agro)industrial production and consumption from now on.

Three publications with a different character – one scientific modeling report, one NGO-article and one popular book series for a broad audience – but on a similar topic: the ‘environmental future of modern industrial societies’. From a contemporary point of view, they were positioned more on the sideline of society, were more Eurocentric, and  did not confront climate and biodiversity issues in ways we are familiar with today. But the idea of radical change, the framing of the planet as resource for future generations, and the sense of urgency and unconventional forms of action I would argue to be pretty much the same. It is the engagement with transitions and transformation as we know of them today, but at the background you should imagine the sound of the pop-music of the second half of the 1960s (Dylan, the Beatles, folk-music) and pictures of student revolts and the rise of the so-called counter-culture in the 1970’s.

E.W. Hofstee and ‘Modern Environmentalism’ at WUR in the 1980s

When I started my academic career in Wageningen in the late 1970s, all ‘engaged students’ were more or less familiar with the wake-up call that was represented by the three publications introduced in the above. So were staff members and even some professors…. Evert Willem Hofstee (1909 – 1987) being one of them.

Professor Hofstee was a social scientist who very early on recognized the urgency of environmental problems and the fact that the future of modern societies would be affected by problems of (air, water, soil) pollution and the exhaustion of resources. As early as mid-1971, he drafted an advisory Report for the Dutch Royal Academy of Science Committee on the task for social sciences to confront “Milieubederf en Milieubeheersing als maatschappelijke verschijnselen” (environmental deterioration and environmental control as societal phenomena)[vii]. During the period of redrafting this advisory report, the Club of Rome Report was published, and Hofstee in his preface to the final version of his KNAW report noticed that one of the remarkable characteristics of the Club of Rome report was the fact that it “hardly mentions the social scientific aspects of the environmental problem” (Hofstee, 1972, preface).  

Hofstee himself was in a position to do something about that. He was a respected professor in (rural) sociology at the Landbouw Hogeschool (the predecessor of WUR) and one of the driving forces behind the construction of the  Leeuwenborch-building as an anchor point for the social sciences. Hofstee was an empirical sociologist, raised in the tradition of demography and sociography e.g. historically informed, applied and policy relevant social science research. I was told that Hofstee was standing member of more than 150 committees and advisory boards that were involved in the socio-spatial redesign of the Netherlands after the second World War. So he knew ‘from within’ that policy makers were confronted with all kinds of expected and not expected negative consequences of the accelerating modernization process as it was happening in rural and urban spaces in the Netherlands and in Europe at the time. Hofstee noticed as well that in the Netherlands ecological/environmental issues were not eagerly taken up and given any serious theoretical or empirical consideration by sociologists. Only Nico Nelissen in Nijmegen and Egbert Tellegen – in collaboration with Peter Ester and later on with Maarten Wolsink-  in Amsterdam were publishing on ecological issues. Nelissen was building on the ecological sociology of the Chicago school in the USA, while Tellegen and colleagues depicted environment and energy as new societal issues, thereby providing  support for the new social movements without much theorizing. In his theoretical work however also Hofstee himself did not pay much attention to environmental issues. His (three volumes) reader we as students were instructed to read, was titled “Differentiële Sociologie” (Sociology of Differentiation) and it did not consider the modernization process from an environmental point of view. Wageningen sociology was first and for all agrarian, rural sociology, focusing on the differential adoption of modern ideas (on religion, family life etc.) and (life)styles – interior design, diets, styles of farming –  by different segments of the population in different parts of the Netherlands.[viii]

Sociology, Environment and Modernization at WUR after Hofstee

Because Hofstee was aware of the need for environmental sociology and because he was still leading the ‘vakgroep sociologie van de Westerse Gebieden’, it was decided that someone in Wageningen should be appointed as ‘environmental sociologists’  to confront the challenges put forward by the Club of Rome and the emerging  Environmental/Energy movements  in the Netherlands and Europe. Henry Hilhorst –  specialized in the sociology of religion – was asked to take environmental issues on board. He tried to make a start with a course in  environmental sociology in 1985, building upon the study of Hofstee (1972) on ‘Environmental Deterioration and Control’. Along the way however, he discovered that his heart was not in environmental sociology and the ‘material matters’ (flows of energy, water, waste, nitrogen, phosphate) associated with it. Henry left for a job in the sociology of religion in Utrecht, and in 1986 I was assigned the task of developing for the (chair)group ‘Sociologie van de Westerse Gebieden”  a Wageningen relevant version of environmental sociology[ix].

Since the course had to start right away and I only just took office as staff member, a guest lecturer from the USA was attracted to join me/guide me in giving the first course on ‘environmental sociology’/milieu-sociologie in Wageningen. Rabel Burdge came over to stay with me for a month, telling the students about ‘social’ (SIA) next to  ‘environmental’ impact assessments (EIA) as happening in the USA. He used the classes to discuss with the students his survey results of SIA-studies, but as well for sharing his family holidays pictures of lake Michigan and the natural beauty it represented…..The students liked his American style, his story telling and his holiday pictures in particular.  I was however not convinced that impact assessment would be the (restricted empirical) way forward for environmental sociology at Wageningen University. I used the first years to reflect on the society-nature interactions from a sociological perspective, using social ecology as well as ‘eco’- neo-Marxism as sources of inspiration.

In the years to follow, a team of environmental sociologists was build. Kris van Koppen and Arthur Mol became close colleagues, and the first PhDs were attracted to build not just a relevant theory but to develop at the same time a body of empirical knowledge on Environmental Deterioration and Control. Ecological Modernization, with an emphasis on the environmental damage stemming from material flows running through socio/ecological systems, was the general heading of this theoretical and empirical work. It resulted from a critical confrontation with ‘small-is-beautiful’ (romantic?) thinking as the dominant paradigm in the grassroot environmental NGOs in Germany in particular. Instead of de-modernization, we argued that the environmental side effects of simple modernization should be dealt with by redesigning/reforming the agro-industrial structures of production and consumption. Enlightenment thinking versus Romantic thinking; Europeanization and Globalization versus localization; market dynamics next to policy dynamics etc. The debate on ‘how to green modern societies’ had begun.

The number of students and staff members were (gradually) growing.  In the meantime other social science groups in the Leeuwenborch started with research and specialized courses on  environmental topics. Next to economics, also history, law, extension sciences and spatial planning developed their own portfolios in the environmental field, with their activities being coordinated in the context of the so called Leeuwenborch Milieu Overleg (LMO).

By the end of 1990s, it was decided that the environmental sociology section of the Western Sociology Group should become a separate group, including not just sociologists but political scientists and cultural geography scholars as well. The Environmental Policy Group (ENP) – from 2000 onwards headed by Arthur Mol and since 2015 in good hands of Simon Bush – became one of the leading groups both within WUR and in the national and international social science (RC-24 of the ISA) arena’s. The excellent reputation of the ENP-group is based on characteristics that I would argue to go well along with Hofstee’s worldview, and they run as follows. First, look at differentiation (now at different regions of the global network society in particular). Second, combine innovative theoretical work always with sound empirical research. Third, try to investigate why social groups at different levels of society do or do not want to engage themselves with processes of change for a more sustainable world in the future. The present ENP-work on energy/water/sanitation transitions in different continents, and on global (fish) food system transformations can be regarded as adequate responses to Hofstee’s wake up call for the environmental social sciences in the 1970s.  Their education and research are examples of social science knowledges that help shape the ‘great transition’ towards a more ecological sound, reflexive, and global modernity.    


[i] I would like to thank Anton Schuurman for his useful comments on the draft version of the present text

[ii] D.Pepper (1984) The Roots of Modern Environmentalism. London, Croom Helm

[iii] The Limits to Growth (1972) D.H. Meadows et al. Potomac Associates.

[iv] MIT = Massachusetts Institute of Technology

[v] E.F. Schumacher (1973) Small is Beautiful. London, Blond and Briggs; E.F. Schumacher (1979) Good Work. New York.  Harpers & Row

[vi] The big lecture-hall of the Leeuwenborch building was named the ‘Hofstee-room’ at the time, but unfortunately this name is no longer in use to refer to the main lecture hall of the social science building of WUR.

[vii] E.W. Hofstee (1972) Milieubederf en Milieubeheersing als maatschappelijke verschijnselen; poging tot een overzicht van de maatschappij-wetenschappelijke problematiek van een actueel onderwerp. Amsterdam. Noord-Hollandsche Uitgevers Maatschappij

[viii] The concept of differentiation was offered by Hofstee as a critique of ‘generalizing, functionalist’ analyses of modernization as dominant in the USA (Parsons)  at the time. Mainstream drivers have to be specified – so Hofstee argued – in terms of time-space specific trajectories and dynamics

[ix] The chairgroup (at the time named ‘vakgroep’) Sociologie van de Westerse Gebieden already had several thematic sections to organize the empirical work. Next to the dominant rural sociology section, there were section on the sociology of family life, on the sociology of leisure, and on methodology.

75th Anniversary: 44) Celebrating 75 years of Rural Sociology at Wageningen University on 13 May 2022

The Rural Sociology Group of Wageningen University  – known and renowned for its comparative approaches, empirically grounded theory development, and scientific, policy and practical relevance of its research output – will celebrate its 75th Anniversary on the 13th of May 2022. The event entitled “Rural Sociology: past, present and future” will reflect upon the past and present of rural sociology and discuss future challenges around three thematic clusters: 1) agriculture; 2) food; and 3) place.

“Rural Sociology: past, present and future” will take place in a lively, interactive setting with debates, workshops, and presentations. The event will not be organized in the form of parallel sessions with paper presentations as still common to most conferences. Instead we aim to create an environment for active engagement and exchange:

  • Opening of the event by the Rector Magnificus of Wageningen University;
  • Inaugural conference lecture;
  • The Rural Talk Show: interactive discussion about rural sociology around three sets of questions: 1) societal commitment and critical distance in agri-food and rural studies, 2) the relations and tensions between critical analysis and developing alternatives, and 3) the making of the future: regulation and self-regulation, uniformity and pluriformity;  
  • Workshops related to agriculture, food and place;
  • Keynote Lecture;
  • Interactive discussion on Rural Sociology’s research agendas.

Register here if you want participate in our conference and join our celebration.

More details about the conference program will be published on this website soon!

“Rural Sociology: Past, Present and Future” will be held at the Akoesticum, Nieuwe Kazernelaan 2D42, 6711 JC Ede, the Netherlands.

Akoesticum

For more information: ruralsociology2022@gmail.com

75th Anniversary: 43) Een recreatieve tocht door het landschap van de Wageningse sociologie (1985-1995)

Jaap Lengkeek

De naam Hofstee was mij bekend. Iets over sociologie in Wageningen ook. Toen ik mijn afstudeeronderzoek deed in een klein plattelandsdorp in Noord-Holland, Twisk, las ik de studie van de Wageningse socioloog Jaap Groot over de leefbaarheid van een plattelandskern. Verder leerde ik, nadat ik aan de Universiteit van Amsterdam was afgestudeerd in de sociologie van bouwen en wonen, de Vakgroep Wonen van Prof. Van Leeuwen in Wageningen kennen. Desondanks bleef ik lang vrezen dat voorbij Utrecht de werkelijke academische wereld ophield.

Een advertentie voor een coördinator van de Werkgroep Recreatie van de Landbouwhogeschool Wageningen had desondanks mijn aandacht getrokken. Na mijn afstuderen had ik een aantal jaren onderzoek gedaan naar de relatie wonen en welbevinden bij het Instituut voor Preventieve Gezondheidszorg in Leiden. Daarna was ik beland in Den Haag bij een platform van organisaties op het gebied van vrijetijdbesteding, openluchtrecreatie en behoud van een gezonde leefomgeving, genaamd Stichting Recreatie. Daar kwam ik in direct contact met een levendige beleidssector op deze terreinen van de verschillende overheden. Bovendien ondersteunde de stichting een netwerk van onderzoekers aan de Nederlandse en Vlaamse universiteiten. Recreatie en vrije tijd waren belangrijke maatschappelijke thema’s geworden. Ik wilde graag terug naar de universiteit, vandaar dat ik solliciteerde naar de geadverteerde positie in Wageningen.

In Wageningen was openluchtrecreatie als onderzoeksthema nadrukkelijk op de kaart gezet als onderwerp van naoorlogse zorg voor een leefbaar en beleefbaar platteland, dat onder de snelle modernisering onder druk was komen te staan. De aanleg van grote recreatiegebieden in de buurt van en tussen grote steden naar voorbeeld van het Amsterdamse Bos was een substantiële oplossing geworden voor het verdwijnen van ruimtelijke kwaliteit en bruikbaarheid in de naoorlogse nota’s voor de ruimtelijke ordening. Intergemeentelijke samenwerkingsverbanden, de zogeheten Recreatieschappen, dienden zorg te dragen voor uitvoering en beheer. Sociaalgeograaf Theo Beckers was in 1976 aangesteld bij de vakgroep Sociologie van de Westerse Gebieden en had zich beijverd om recreatiegedrag en -beleid op te nemen in het curriculum. Hij schreef in 1983 een prachtig proefschrift waarin het belang van recreatie werd duidelijk gemaakt, als een vorm van vrijheid, en bracht deze vrijheid in verband met de recente geschiedenis van het overheidsbeleid en met een solide theoretische kijk op planning. Bovendien stond hij aan de wieg van een samenwerkingsverband van Wageningse studievelden waarin openluchtrecreatie een aandachtsgebied werd of moest worden, van sociologie, landgebruiksplanning, ecologie, economie, psychologie en landschapsarchitectuur. Het samenwerkingsverband werd wettelijk (Wet Universitaire Bestuurshervorming) verankerd in de Werkgroep Recreatie. Ik kreeg de baan.

Voor de functie was ik ondergebracht als medewerker bij de Vakgroep Sociologie, met een kamer op de Leeuwenborch. Daar trof ik een gezelschap collega’s die onder Hofstee waren aangesteld, Ad Nooy had de leiding ervan, Jelle Lijfering, Berry Lekanne dit Deprez, Iteke Weeda, Rien Munters, en een recente lichting met Jaap Frouws, Gert Spaargaren, Jan-Willem te Kloeze en Henk de Haan. Jaap Groot en gezinssocioloog Gerrit Kooy waren zojuist vertrokken of gingen met pensioen. Mijn herinnering aan die tijd is niet helemaal zuiver meer na zesendertig jaar. Mijn belevenissen bij de vakgroep zullen daarom eclectisch en impressionistisch zijn. Terwijl ik me met medewerkers van verschillende vakgroepen bezighield, bleef mijn kijk op de collega’s van sociologie beperkt. Een helder ijkpunt vormde het hoofd van het secretariaat, Ada Hink. Zij beleed haar trots en trouw aan de groep en aan Hofstee in het bijzonder door mij te vertellen dat ze altijd op haar post zou zijn om Hofstee, als hij graag nog dagelijks in zijn kamer kwam, bijtijds zijn koffie te brengen. Niet duidelijk werd me wie een oudere man was, die ook ergens in een kamer zich door data heen zat te werken. Een assistent van Hofstee of zo iemand?

In de ochtend van mijn eerste werkdag in Wageningen parkeerde ik mijn auto op het parkeerterrein van de Leeuwenborch. Ik was benieuwd naar wat ik daar aan vervoersmiddelen zou aantreffen. De faam van milieuvriendelijkheid van de Landbouwhogeschool was tot mij doorgedrongen en ik vermoedde eenvoudige auto’s aan te treffen, deux-chevauxs, simpele Opels, een bescheiden Renault, of zoiets, en natuurlijk veel fietsen. Ik zelf was sinds kort in het bezit van een zescilinder, zilverkleurige Chevrolet Malibu, met roodlederen banken in plaats van stoelen. Ik verwachtte daarmee een ernstige dissonant te vormen. De auto slurpte benzine, verbruikte liters olie en maakte het geluid van een oceaanstomer. Maar de leden van de Werkgroep Recreatie pasten er precies in. Op weg naar geschikte onderzoeksgebieden reden we door het land en de stemming in de samengepakte wagen was opperbest. De Chevrolet heeft waarschijnlijk mijn beste bijdrage aan teambuilding betekend.

Auto, echtgenote en ik

Helaas moest die al vrij snel worden ingeruild omdat van de zes cilinders bij een scherpe bocht naar rechts er steevast twee uitvielen.

De Landbouwhogeschool werd Landbouwuniversiteit en de vakgroep sociologie trok een nieuwe generatie medewerkers aan. Van de oudere medewerkers was Rien Munters degene die hen vooral theoretisch inspireerde. Hij had zich verdiept in het werk van de Britse socioloog Anthony Giddens, waarvoor hij twee van zijn studenten had weten te enthousiasmeren, Hans Mommaas en Hugo van der Poel. Deze twee hadden zich na afstuderen naar de universiteit van Tilburg gespoed als zendelingen van Giddens, die hun missie daar met succes toepasten op het terrein van de vrijetijdwetenschappen. Na enige tijd, in 1987, volgde Theo Beckers hen naar Tilburg als hoogleraar Vrijetijdswetenschappen. Rien Munters bleef hun goeroe op afstand.

Rien was één van de medewerkers waar ik meer mee optrok. We gingen met enige regelmaat na afloop van het werk samen naar Nol in ’t Bos, om daar een jenevertje te drinken, met bitterballen, waarbij ik hem ook af en toe een klein sigaartje mocht aanreiken.  We spraken weinig over het werk, wel over amusantere onderwerpen. Zo vertelde hij anekdotes over Prof. Den Hollander, die ik als hoogleraar sociologie in Amsterdam had meegemaakt en die zijn studenten grote schrik placht aan te jagen, bijvoorbeeld door namen van de presentielijst op te noemen om de betreffende persoon tijdens het college een spitsvondig antwoord te laten geven. Menig student dook onder de bank. Ook liet hij een studente met gips om haar been uit de collegezaal verwijderen omdat ‘dat been’ hem stoorde. Deze handelwijze is hem bij de grote revolutie van de late jaren zestig duur komen te staan. Tevens memoreerde Rien dat hij ooit in het ziekenhuis was beland nadat hij een boomtak afzaagde waar hij zelf op zat. Over de wonderlijke hallucinaties die hij daarna kreeg raakte hij niet uitgesproken.

Ook met Albert Mok had ik goed contact, die als deeltijdhoogleraar organisatiesociologie was aangetrokken. Ik kende zijn naam van een boek over sociologie, dat hij samen met De Jager had geschreven en dat gewoonlijk werd aangeduid werd als ‘de mokkendejager’. Ikzelf was opgevoed met het boek van Van Doorn en Lammers en later het werk van Norbert Elias. Ik volgde Mok’s colleges en nam er af en toe één voor hem waar. Hij was een liefhebber van jenever. Bij mijn promotie gaf hij me een hele doos met flessen exquise Belgische jenever.

De nieuwste lichting medewerkers bij de vakgroep oriënteerde zich sterk op Jürgen Habermas, die het werk van Max Weber verder had uitgewerkt en actueel gemaakt. Het terrein waarop deze jongere generatie zich begon te bewegen raakte enigszins verwijderd van het agrarische. Milieusociologen werden ze. En, in mijn ogen, met een bewonderenswaardige inzet en begeestering. Ze mengden zich actief in de onderzoekscommissie voor milieuvraagstukken van de International Sociological Association (ISA). Voor een ISA-conferentie stelden ze een ‘marsroute’ op, zo vernam ik,  waar elk van hen naar toe zou gaan om een bijdrage te leveren. Ikzelf nam met meer gemakzucht deel aan de commissies voor vrije tijd en voor toerisme en vond me vergeleken met hen een lapzwans.

Intussen bedreigde het College van Bestuur de studierichting Sociologie met bezuinigingen of zelfs opheffing. Hetzelfde lot trof Landschapsarchitectuur, een succesvolle en in Nederland unieke academische studierichting. Ad Nooy, zo hoorde ik,  stelde voor een deel van zijn leerstoel in te leveren om financiële ruimte te creëren. Hij en hoogleraar landschapsarchitectuur Vroom waren volgens mij integere hoogleraren van het oudere stempel, die hun posities vanzelfsprekend achtten. Geen doordouwers of gewiekste strategen. Landschapsarchitectuur ging op in een gezamenlijke studie met landinrichtingsplanning. Doodzonde. Hoe het met sociologie ging weet ik niet meer. Wel, dat Jan Douwe van der Ploeg als hoogleraar werd aangesteld en hoofd werd van de vakgroep. Hij vatte zijn rol op met veel elan en voortvarendheid, met een sterke visie op agrarische regionale ontwikkeling en met een gedegen netwerk binnen en buiten de universiteit. In een landelijk tijdschrift beschreef hij zijn plannen en merkte op dat er onder de medewerkers, die hij geërfd had,  veel ‘dood hout’ zat, dat nodig weggekapt moest worden om gezonde groei mogelijk te maken. Een mens kan zich vergissen, ook een hoogleraar. Het dode hout dat hij ontwaarde bleek een verzameling wandelende takken te zijn. Wandelende takken leven en eten zo nodig zelfs hun eigen kinderen op. De bedoelde medewerkers, waaronder ik,  zijn later hoogleraar geworden, één zelfs Rector Magnificus. De nieuwe hoogleraar Van der Ploeg was hoe dan ook van zins snel flinke beslissingen te nemen, wat stuitte op argwaan en actief verzet van de milieusociologen. Ze vonden dat, in habermasiaanse termen, niet voldoende ‘communicatief werd gehandeld’. Inmiddels was ik secretaris van de vakgroep en mij werd gevraagd om in het ontstane conflict te bemiddelen. Het is allemaal wel opgelost, al weet ik niet meer hoe.

De recreatiesociologie ontwikkelde zich verder. Aanvankelijk werd veel onderzoek verricht in opdracht van rijks-, provinciale of gemeentelijke overheden naar recreatiegedrag. Theo Beckers entameerde en begeleidde onderzoek naar vrijetijdsgedrag van huisvrouwen in de stedelijke omgeving. Stedelijke recreatie was een hot item. Zelf kon ik een aantal onderzoeken op dat terrein uitzetten en begeleiden.

Bovendien liet ik studenten onderzoek doen naar de provinciale recreatieve ontwikkelingsplannen. In die tijd was er veel geld beschikbaar van de overheid om onderzoek uit te voeren, met een duidelijk praktisch doel. Later ging het onderzoeksgeld naar de DLO-instituten. Aan publiceren in buitenlandse of in landelijke wetenschappelijke tijdschriften werd nauwelijks gedacht. De wetenschappelijke belangstelling ervoor was in Nederland ook niet groot. Zoals Theo Beckers het ongeveer verwoordde ‘de recreatiestudie bewoont geen hoofdvertrek in het gebouw van de alma mater’. Ook internationale tijdschriften van allure verschenen in het buitenland nog maar mondjesmaat. Een eigen reeks publicaties van de werkgroep leek al heel wat. Omdat ik de theoretische invalshoek van sociologen en antropologen in de studies van het toerisme interessant, zo niet als mondiaal verschijnsel interessanter vond dan vrije tijd en recreatie was ik begonnen op mijn kamer werkgroepen sociologie van het toerisme te geven, met vijf alleraardigste en gemotiveerde studenten. Na het vertrek van Theo Beckers werd een bijzondere leerstoel Recreatiekunde ingesteld, waarop sociaalgeograaf Adri Dietvorst werd benoemd. Hij nam de leiding van de Werkgroep Recreatie over en ik bleef als secretaris ervan bij de vakgroep sociologie. Om het aspect toerisme meer gewicht en aandacht te geven werd René van der Duim aangetrokken, die in Tilburg sociologie had gestudeerd, docent was geweest aan het Nederlands Wetenschappelijk Instituut voor Toerisme en Recreatie in Breda en vervolgens mij had opgevolgd bij de Stichting Recreatie. In 1994 promoveerde ik op een studie naar het belang van Recreatie en Toerisme. Eén van mijn paranimfen vond het predicaat van de promotie ‘met lof’, tenslotte een gezonde groente, voor een landbouwuniversiteit wel te verwachten.

De positie van Adri Dietvorst werd geformaliseerd in een gewoon hoogleraarschap. De Werkgroep Recreatie werd een zelfstandige eenheid en gevestigd in gebouw De Hucht, waar ook Planologie, Landgebruiksplanning en Landschapsarchitectuur verbleven. De studie van recreatie en toerisme werd een interdisciplinaire aangelegenheid. Jan-Willem te Kloeze, René van der Duim en ik verhuisden van de Leeuwenborch naar De Hucht. De leeropdracht Recreatiekunde werd Sociaal-ruimtelijke Analyse (veel later veranderd in Cultural Geography). Het vervolg is inmiddels geschiedenis waar met tevredenheid op terug kan worden gekeken. Ik volgde Adri Dietvorst op, met een eigen leerstoelgroep, een masteropleiding Leisure, Tourism and Environment (één van de twee eerste opleidingen in Wageningen volgens het BaMa stelsel) en later nog een gemeenschappelijke Bachelor Tourism, samen met de University of Applied Sciences Breda.

De bakermat van dit alles blijft de vakgroep Sociologie van de Westerse gebieden. Wat ik tastbaar ervan bewaard heb hoort bij de professorale parafernalia. Van de weduwe van professor Kooy kocht ik diens toga en baret. Omdat de toga veel te groot was nam ik ook de toga over van professor van Mourik, emeritus planoloog, die deze weer had gekregen van hoogleraar Bijhouwer, de eerste hoogleraar landschapsarchitectuur. Dat ensemble vertegenwoordigt treffend mijn werkzaamheden in Wageningen, tussen sociologie, planologie en landschapsarchitectuur. De baret van Kooy, met zijn naam nog binnenin, ben ik eerbiedig blijven gebruiken.

Saving the world – Cultivating the city: Invitation to the 14th Weihenstephan forum (21 & 22 October 2021)

How food production in the city contributes to a sustainable future

21 & 22 October, 2021 [Hybrid Event]

The industrialization of our global food system and growing urbanization not only exacerbate the effects of climate change and accelerate the loss of biodiversity, but also significantly cause the spatial and mental decoupling of food production and consumption.

Against the backdrop of the associated socio-ecological challenges, a “renaissance” of various forms of urban agriculture can be observed worldwide over the last decade, accompanied by the emergence of new multifunctional productive ecosystems in urban spaces. Especially in the Global North, the manifold forms and different dimensions of urban agriculture increasingly show potentials how negative effects along the food value chain can be reduced and how ecological, economic and social added values can be created.

The 14th Weihenstephan Symposium will therefore revolve around a provocative question:

“Urban agriculture – A trend phenomenon or transformative element for the development of resilient cities and food systems?”

To explore this controversial question, the professorship for Urban Productive Ecosystems at Technical University of Munich invites practitioners from science, business, politics and civil society to debate their expertise and experience in the form of keynote speeches and subsequent discussion. Different forms and aspects of urban production – their limits and potentials – will be critically examined and their practical potential discussed from ecological, social and economic points of view.

We invite you to participate in the forum and discuss with us – participation is open to the interested public.

Registration & Participation

Due to the current Covid-19 related regulations, the event will take place hybrid, i.e., with a limited number of participants at TUM Campus Weihenstephan in Freising (Konferenzsaal iGZW, 3G rules apply) and the possibility to participate in the full program via Zoom. Please note that registration for on-site participation is required by October 18 to allow for planning the logistics and catering according to Covid rules. All admitted registrants will receive final information and the access link for Zoom closer to the event. The event will be held partly in German (GER) and partly in English (ENG) with no simultaneous translation. It is open to all and is free of charge.

Registration for participation in presence or in digital form for both event days: https://wiki.tum.de/display/WeiFo21Reg/Registrierung+-+Weihenstephaner+Forum+2021

If you have any questions, please contact stefanie.burger@tum.de.

75th Anniversary: 42) Renowned Academics teaching in PhD Course Agrarian and Food Citizenship

We are excited to announce that three world-class academics will co-teach in our PhD course on Agrarian and Food Citizenship: Prof. Hannah Wittman, Prof. Aya H. Kimura and Prof. Haroon Akram-Lodhi. For participants in this course this provides a unique opportunity for learning and exchange.

Hannah Wittman is professor at the University of British Columbia in Canada. Her research examines the ways that the rights to produce and consume food are contested and transformed through struggles for agrarian reform, food sovereignty, and agrarian citizenship. Her projects include community-based research on farmland access, transition to organic agriculture, and seed sovereignty in British Columbia, agroecological transition and the role of institutional procurement in the transition to food sovereignty in Ecuador and Brazil, and the role that urban agriculture and farm-to-school nutrition initiatives play in food literacy education. http://ires.ubc.ca/person/hannah-wittman/

Aya H. Kimura is professor of sociology at the University of  Hawai`i-Manoa. Her research analyzes the intersections of technoscience, gender, and  sustainability. She has had research projects in Indonesia, Japan, and Hawai`i, and has written on agrobiodiversity, fermentation, food safety, nutrition science and the idea of “smart food.”  Among others, she examines diverse practical experiences with citizen science on a range of food and farming issues, from seed development to toxicants to biodiversity. https://ayakimura.weebly.com/

Haroon Akram-Lodhi is professor of economics and international development studies at Trent University, Canada. His research interest is in the political economy of agrarian change, the future of smallholder peasant communities in the world food system, on the sustainability of rural social structures, relations and institutions, and gender and rights based economics. https://sites.google.com/site/aharoonakramlodhi/home

The course is organized as a one-week intensive discussion seminar.

For more info and registration see: https://www.wur.nl/en/activity/Agrarian-and-Food-Citizenship-3-ECTS.htm

Ongemakkelijk/Uncomfortable

Afgelopen vrijdag was het zover. Medewerkers van de WUR verwijderde de tentoonstelling “Power of the Wasted” van de buitenexpositieruimte op de Wageningse campus. Dit na bezwaren tegen de tentoonstelling van de United Community of African Students (UCAS).  De foto’s, op billboard formaat geëxposeerd, lieten de veerkracht zien van mensen die werken in de informele afvalindustrie in Ghana. Ze waren gemaakt door Jurrian Veldhuizen, een Wageningse alumnus International Development Studies. De foto’s waren een bijproduct van zijn master-thesis onderzoek naar afvalverwerking in Kumasi, na Accra in omvang de tweede stad in Ghana. Echter, de tentoonstelling geeft volgens de Gemeenschap van Afrikaanse Studenten een verkeerd beeld. De studenten spreken van een linguïstische en culturele misrepresentatie van de mensen die op de dump werken, en er zou niet zijn geweekt met “informed consent”.

Photograph: Jurrian Veldhuizen

UCAS meent dat het gebruik van de term “scavenger denigrerend is naar de informele afvalverwerkers. Nu betekent het woord “to scavenge” zoveel als het verwijderen van afval. “Scavenger” verwijst naar een persoon die op zoek is naar afval dat kan worden hergebruikt, een veel gebruikte term in de academische literatuur. Belangrijker nog, voor de mensen die het afval recyclen op de dump in Kumasi is “scavenger” als een geuzennaam. En dat matched met de foto’s, die waardigheid en kracht uitstralen. Niet voor niets heet de tentoonstelling “Power of the Wasted”. Het laat de kracht zien van degenen die zijn gemarginaliseerd. Aan de rand van de samenleving leven en overleven zij.

De “scavengers” werken met afval – producten waar wij afstand van nemen, omdat ze geen waarde meer voor ons vertegenwoordigen. Eenmaal aangekomen op de dump, is het afval uit zicht, en zo hebben we dat graag. In haar ondertussen klassieke werk “Purity and Danger”, maakte de antropologe Mary Douglas[1] duidelijk dat wat wij afval noemen een categorie van dingen en producten omvat, maar ook mensen, die zijn afgewezen. Deze horen niet (meer) thuis in de wereld zoals we die voor ons zien, en daarom ontdoen we ons hiervan. En hier zitten twee ongemakkelijke dimensies van de tentoonstelling.  

Ten eerste laten de foto’s van Jurrian Veldhuizen duidelijk zien dat ons afval, eenmaal uit zicht, dus niet verdwenen is, maar een tweede leven tegemoet gaat. Dit afval wordt weer tot waarde gemaakt, maar onder zware en ongezonde omstandigheden. Kennelijk houden we die werkelijkheid liever uit beeld. Ten tweede, maakt de tentoonstelling de mensen zichtbaar achter het afval – mensen waar in de regel op wordt neergekeken. Geïdentificeerd met het afval zelf, staan ze voor datgene dat uit zicht moet blijven. Kennelijk roept het zien van deze wereld aversie op, en willen we het weren uit ons gezichtsveld in plaats van kritisch te reflecteren op de omstandigheden die deze wereld mogelijk maken. Een thema dat ook aan bod komt in ons zogenoemde “Bauman vak” (Sociology in Development”, SDC-32806). 

De nu verwijderde tentoonstelling laat dus deze ongemakkelijke wereld van het afval zien. Jurrian Veldhuizen kwam in deze wereld terecht door de producten te volgen waar wij ons van ontdoen. Na het eerste contact gelegd te hebben, begon Veldhuizen zelf als “scavenger” te werken op de dump. De foto’s die hij maakte toont mensen in hun kracht, zonder oordeel en vooroordeel jegens hen. Het laat ons de moeilijke omstandigheden zien waaronder ons afval wordt gerecycled, en de waardigheid in de mensen die hier werken. Met het, als is het tijdelijk, weghalen van de tentoonstelling wordt die ongemakkelijke werkelijkheid dus weer onzichtbaar gemaakt. Wellicht voelt dat comfortabel voor ons, voor degenen die het goed hebben en het afval in grote hoeveelheden produceren, en de gemarginaliseerde kant van de samenleving liever niet zien.  

In het bericht van Resource over het verwijderen van de tentoonstelling, zien we dat een foto met daarop een jongeman van een bilboard wordt verwijderd. Weggehaald, omdat hij en zijn mede “scavengers” gezien worden als een negatieve culturele representatie. Dat zegt dan ook weer meer over de tegenstanders van de tentoonstelling, dan over de foto’s en de mensen die daarop zijn geportretteerd.  Het, ook al is het tijdelijk, verwijderen van deze tentoonstelling geeft het verkeerde signaal af.

Oh ja, en had ik al gezegd dat de tentoonstelling in nauwe samenwerking met de “scavengers”  tot stand is gekomen? 

Uncomfortable

Last Friday was the day. WUR staff removed the “Power of the Wasted” exhibition from the outdoor exhibition space on the Wageningen campus. This followed objections to the exhibition from the United Community of African Students (UCAS). The photographs, exhibited in billboard format, showed the resilience of people working in the informal waste industry in Ghana and were made by Jurrian Veldhuizen, a Wageningen alumnus of International Development Studies. The photographs were a by-product of his master thesis, for which he studied waste management in Kumasi, after Accra the second largest city in Ghana. According to the community of African students, the exhibition gave an incorrect cultural and linguistic representation of Africa and the people who work at the dump. They also claim that the participants in the exhibition did not give their “informed consent”.

UCAS believed that the designation “scavenger” is derogatory to informal waste pickers. Now the word “to scavenge” means as much as to remove waste. “Scavenger” refers to someone who is looking for waste that can be reused, a term commonly used in academic literature. More important, the people who recycle garbage at the dump in Kumasi use the name “scavenger” with dignity. And that matched the photographs, which exude this dignity and power of the “scavengers”. After all, the exhibition is named “Power of the Wasted” for a reason. It shows the power of those who have been marginalized, living and surviving at the fringes of society.

The “scavengers” work with waste – products that we have distanced ourselves from because they no longer represent value to us. Once arrived at the dump, the waste is out of sight, and that’s how we like it to be. In her now classic work “Purity and Danger,” anthropologist Mary Douglas made it clear that what we call waste includes a category of things and products, but also people, that have been rejected. And this brings us to two uncomfortable dimensions of the exhibition.

First, Jurrian Veldhuizen’s photographs clearly show that our waste, once out of sight, is not gone, but gets a second life. This waste is made into value again, but under harsh and unhealthy conditions. Apparently we prefer to keep this reality out of sight. Second, and relatedly, the exhibition makes visible the people behind the waste – people who are generally looked down upon. Identified with the waste itself, they represent that which should be kept out of sight. Apparently, we are more comfortable with removing this reality out of sight than with questioning the political and economic conditions by which these conditions are produced. A theme also addressed in our so-called “Bauman course” (Sociology in Development, SDC-32806). 

The exhibition brought the uncomfortable world of waste in front of our eyes. Jurrian Veldhuizen entered this world by following the products we dispose ourselves of. After making contact with those working there, Veldhuizen began to work as a “scavenger” at the dump. The photographs he took show the resilience of people working at the dump, without judgment and prejudice towards these people. It shows us the difficult conditions under which our waste is recycled. So with the, even if temporary, removal of the exhibition, that uncomfortable reality is made invisible again. Perhaps that feels comfortable to us, to those who are well off and produce the waste in large quantities, and would rather not be confronted with this reality at the margins of the world we made. 

In Resource’s post about the removal of the exhibition, we see that a photograph showing a young man is removed from the billboard. Removed because he and his fellow “scavengers” are seen as dirty, and as a negative cultural representation. Then again, that says more about the opponents of the exhibition, than it does about the photographs and the people portrayed. Removing this exhibition, even temporarily, clearly gives the wrong message. 

Oh yes, and did I mention already that the exhibition was created in close cooperation with the “scavengers” themselves? 


[1] Douglas, Mary. (2003). Purity and danger: An analysis of concepts of pollution and taboo. Routledge