June 2016 Katharina Prause completed her MSc-thesis for the Master of Organic Agriculture of Wageningen University. The full thesis is available here. Below an abstract of her thesis.
The heteogeneity of alternative food networks (AFN) is increasing. First generation AFNs are linked to direct sales, whereas second generation AFNs focus more on the consumer roles within AFNs. Those AFNs can be categorised in many ways based on different theories and characteristics. Over time AFNs evolve and adapt and it is questionable if those categories still apply. Therefore the aim of the thesis was to investigate AFNs in order to gain more insight in AFN categorisation. The thesis seeks to find an answer on how consumer-producer relationships in operational AFNs in Oldenburg can be categorised. This is done by an inventory, a preliminary categorisation, an in-depth analysis of AFN characteristics based on interviews and observations and a final categorisation. It is complemented with an exploration of the underlying dimensions ‘proximity’, ‘type of interaction’ and ‘type of exchange’ as well as consumer involvement practices within AFNs in Oldenburg.
Main findings of the the research are that the above underlying dimensions can no longer capture the newer AFNs as the consumer-producer dichotomy limits the categorising approach. Furthermore, the research sheds light on different ways of how consumers can get involved in the operation of AFNs. Thereby, the active or passive nature is less of relevance and more insight is gained by looking at consumer involvement practices. In conclusion, categorising AFNs based on one or a few particular characteristics does not capture the complete AFN operation. As AFNs evolve, forms of consumer involvement got more diverse, also the variety of consumer-producer relationships got more complex, even to the extent that there is no such distinction anymore. Several AFNs practices go beyond the market economies and can be seen as forms of diverse economies. Lastly, the existence of a ‘network of networks‘ draws attention to an increase of relationships forms and collaborations between AFNs. This indicates that AFNs are part of a greater network than just the network of an individual AFN, whereby food is a tool to provide information to gain a greater goal such as sustainable development.