New to the Rural Sociology Group: Introducing myself

I have been here in Wageningen and at the Rural Sociology Group for two weeks now so it only seems appropriate that I introduce myself.  I’m Jessica Duncan and I have been hired to teach courses in food cultures and food policy.

Conducting field work with women pastoralists in Gujarat, India (Summer 2012)

Conducting field work with women pastoralists in Gujarat, India (Summer 2012)

My teaching philosophy is based on the awareness of the central role food plays in socio-cultural and economic issues and across political discourse at all levels. Using food – with its physical, emotional and symbolic resonance – as a lens, allows us to approach complex problems and search for solutions that can impact our lives and the lives of others. I work hard to create a space where students feel encouraged to test ideas and tackle difficult questions with new concepts. Above all, I teach because I love to learn.

From 2008 to 2013 I worked in the Department of Food Systems, Culture and Society at the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC) in Barcelona. Here I developed and taught courses on research methods, food governance, and contemporary issues in food studies. I also supervised a broad range of post-graduate research students on topics related to food cultures and food security. The international nature of the programme gave me the chance to interact with students from around the world on key issues related to the study of food.

In terms of research, areas of empirical focus include: multilateral food security forums, notably the Committee on World Food Security; interactions between states, the private sector, philanthropic foundations and civil society organizations; relationship between food security, food sovereignty and the Right to Food; strategies of civil society engagement in global food security policy processes; land tenure; pastoralist land uses; pastoralist tenure systems.

These focal areas make up two research streams. First, I examine the changing architecture of global food security governance with particular focus on the discourse, roles and rhetoric of actors therein to understand: a) how food security policy is enacted at the global level; and, b) what the implications of this are at the community level.  This is the focus of my PhD research. I am in the final stages of completing a PhD in Food Policy from the Centre for Food Policy, Department of Sociology, School of Social Sciences, City University London where I have been very lucky to work with David Barling and Tim Lang. I have been looking at the reformed UN Committee on World Food Security; assessing its capacity to achieve a renewed mandate in the context of a shifting architecture of global food security governance.

Alongside this research, and in part because of it, I started working with pastoralists (migratory livestock herders). This work brought me to India to do research with pastoralists in the Indian state of Gujarat. These communities face increasing threats to their livelihoods due to land grab, climate change, urban encroachment, and inappropriate policy initiatives. For this research have been looking specifically at the impacts of these threats on the culture and food security of specific pastoralist communities. I am currently involved in a project to develop a telephone helpline for pastoralists in the region. The helpline will provide information on land rights and animal health.

A bit of personal information: I am Canadian but have been living in Europe since 2007, first in France, then Spain, then the UK and now the Netherlands. Outside of my work and research (but often in conjunction with it), I love to travel and explore new places. I practice yoga and am happiest when I am walking or climbing up mountains. When I get the time, I blog at and tweet @foodgovernance.

I am around the Leeuwenborch (which I cannot yet pronounce) practically every day. If you fancy a chat about the governance of food security, land tenure or food cultures, please come on over and say hi!

Contact: or 3024 Leeuwenborch


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About FoodGovernance

Jessica Duncan is Associate Professor in Rural Sociology at Wageningen University (the Netherlands). She holds a PhD in Food Policy from City University London (2014). Jessica’s main research focus concerns the practices and politics of participation in food policy processes, particularly the relationships (formal and non-formal) between governance organizations, systems of food provisioning, the environment, and the actors engaged in and across these spaces. More specifically, she maps the diverse ways that actors participate in policy-making processes, analysing how the resulting policies are shaped, implemented, challenged, and resisted, and she theorizes about what this means for socio-ecological transformation. Participation and engagement is at the core of her approach. In turn, she is active in a broad range of local, national and international initiatives with the aim of better understanding participation processes with a view towards transitioning to just and sustainable food systems. She is involved in several research projects including ROBUST, HortEco & SHEALTHY. Jessica is published regularly in academic journals. She recently co-edited the Handbook on Sustainable and Regenerative Food Systems (2020). Her other books include Food Security Governance: Civil society participation in the Committee on World Food Security (2015) and an edited volume called Sustainable food futures: Multidisciplinary solutions (2017). Jessica has received several awards for her teaching and in 2017 she was awarded Teacher of the Year for Wageningen University (shortlisted again in 2018 and 2019, longlisted in 2020). With the funds she has received for these awards she launched a story-telling workshop for students and faculty, with storytelling trainer, Emma Holmes. Jessica is on the Editorial Board of the journal Sociologia Ruralis and is an advisor to the Traditional Cultures Project (USA). She is a member of the Wageningen Young Academy and sits on the Sustainability Board of Experts at Wageningen University.