Well, the last four months has been a whirlwind of moving houses, living out of suitcases, new climates, new friends, stroopwafel, bicycles and mind-blowing public transport (for an Australian, anyway). Having finally set up some photos on my desk, and unpacked all my boxes, I thought it was time to introduce myself to all you past, present and future RSO blog readers out there.
G’day, I’m Mark, RSO’s new assistant professor, and yes that is an Australian accent you hear.
Moving to the Netherlands to join WUR has been a mix of the old and the new for me. It’s been a great thrill to reconnect with friends and colleagues from around the world who have also found their way to Wageningen, including some fellow survivors from my PhD days in the Geography school at the University of Sydney.
A little bit about me then…Coming from an environmental science/development studies background, it was in Sydney that I discovered my love for the discipline of Geography (how does a geographer end up in a sociology group you may ask? More on that later). There, I pursued a PhD thesis project working with small farmers in Maharashtra, India who were being enrolled in potato contract farming schemes by agribusiness firms.
It was through this work that I developed my ongoing interest in what is known as ‘the Agrarian Question’, which connects to old debates about agrarian change and rural development going all the way back to Karl Marx himself, implicating Lenin, Karl Kautsky, and Alexander Chayanov along the way, before being renewed and applied to current agrarian and rural development problems by my contemporary intellectual heroes including Henry Bernstein, Harriet Friedmann, Michael Watts and Jan Douwe van der Ploeg. My time in India also triggered a life-long love affair with the country (not to mention the humble potato…).
That interest has since taking me to Indonesia (working with smallholder coffee farmers engaged in global value chains), Myanmar (working on a large-scale rural poverty, food and nutrition security, and livelihoods project), and back to India (studying the links between land and livelihoods). My own take on rural development in South and Southeast Asia is that we need approaches that bridge the structural insights of agrarian political economy with a ‘people-first’ approach that explicitly acknowledges the agency of rural people.
My ongoing task then has been to break down unhelpful dualisms by attempting to construct a political economy of everyday livelihoods in South and Southeast Asia. If you’re interested, you can find a list of my publications here. I’d love to hear from any students interested in pursuing a thesis on any of these topics!
Back to the new about moving to WUR. Well, while I’ve always looked to Wageningen as a place I’d love to work, I never quite saw myself joining a sociology group! Of course, there is a lot of overlap between geography and sociology, and you can find us geographers infiltrating all sorts of university departments all over the world.
One challenge I’m looking forward to is learning about the different frameworks and conceptual approaches that my colleagues at WUR apply to these common themes of sustainability, justice, equity and transformation in global food systems, while also getting my head around the teaching program! This academic year, you’ll be able to find me teaching into RSO34806 (Transforming Food Systems), RSO21806 (Origin Food), and RSO20806 (Agricultural and Rural Development). I’m excited to meet all the students studying these courses!
Finally, with my lovely partner, Katharine (who is actually a sociologist, and an amazing one at that!), we have a project investigating social, organisational and technological change in the global hops industry. I have to say, this involves the most enjoyable fieldwork I’ve been a part of. If you are interested in craft beer, the sociology of agricultural, and talking with hop farmers we are currently looking for one or two thesis students to work on this topic.
As winter approaches, I am starting to miss the sun and surf of Sydney a little bit. However, the cosy houses, the numerous Wageningen pubs, day trips to Den Haag, my clumsy attempts at learning Dutch, and my wonderful new colleagues more than make up for it. Thanks to everyone for the warm welcome so far, and I’m looking forward to all that is ahead in RSO!