75th Anniversary: 16) Meaningful Diversity: Origins of the Farming Style Concept

Part of the front cover of Hofstee’s inaugural lecture “On the causes of diversity in agricultural areas in the Netherlands” (1946)

E.W. Hofstee’s interest in the concrete, the lived, and the particular marked his inclination towards an “inductive” research methodology. He combined in-depth descriptions of social groups with a comparative approach (Hofstee 1938: 7-8). This grounded theoretical approach yielded the concept of farming styles in agricultural production. A farming style can be defined as shared normative and strategic ideas about how farming should be done (see also Blog 10). Hofstee’s concept of farming  style implied an important analytical inversion: one should not try to understand the practice of farming from the structural conditions to which the farmers responds but rather move to the center of our analysis the agency of farmers as creative actors. Hofstee thought that rural sociology should emancipate itself from structuralist and functionalist “adjustment sociology,” as the understanding of rural life in terms of an adaptation to “order” was not only narrow and incomplete but also wrong: it erased the agency of people in the creation of the world they inhabit (see also Blog 14). Continue reading

75th Anniversary: 15) Marquetalia: Tegen de stroom in, maar met de beweging mee


In 1979 verscheen het eerste nummer van Marquetalia, een tijdschrift over landbouw en politiek. Tot de oprichters van het tijdschrift behoorden Jan Douwe van der Ploeg, de latere hoogleraar en hoofd van de vakgroep Rurale Sociologie RSO, maar ook anderen die de rurale sociologie in de jaren tachtig en negentig weer op de kaart zetten, zoals de agrarische socioloog en voormalig RSO collega Jaap Frouws, die later een spraakmakende politiek-sociologische studie over mest en macht schreef (waarover later meer in een blog), en Jan Schakel, de latere onderwijscoördinator van RSO. Na zes nummers hield het tijdschrift op te bestaan. Het redaktiekollektief sprankelde nog van nieuwe ideeën, maar men woonde en werkte te ver van elkaar – verspreidt over drie continenten – en nieuwe carrières boden nieuwe netwerken en kansen. Een deel van het kollektief ging de kern vormen van RSO. Continue reading

75th Anniversary: 14) Is the Future of Rural Sociology Urban? Is the Veluwe City?

“Nationaal Park De Hoge Veluwe” by F.d.W. is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The functions and meaning attributed to the rural are manifold (Woods 2011: 1). Primarily, it operates as the intersection of “man and nature” (Ploeg 1997: 41), where for centuries most of our food, fiber, and fuel have been produced (Woods 2011: 1) but which now also provides the landscapes and scenery where visitors ‘slow-down’ or search for adventure and sensation (Buscher and Fletcher 2017) while comprising spaces of identification and belonging (Jongerden 2018). Further, the rural acquires meaning in relation to its complement: the urban. Often defined as opposites in terms of land use, population density, or social bonds, among others (Cloke 2006), these “constitute the complex unity of society viewed from a spatial angle” (Gilbert 1982: 609). This variety of functions and meanings has made the rural not only an epistemologically uncertain concept, but also a normative one.This normativity and uncertainty is part of the heritage of rural sociology. Continue reading

75th Anniversary: 13) Reflections: From Rural Sociology to a Sociology of Place?

Place has figured central in the work of the Rural Sociology Group. In a way this is, of course, already implicated by the adjective “rural” which adds a spatial identity to the sociology we do. Taking this identity as a social practice and the production of meaningful differences as points of departure (Hofstee 1946, Ploeg 1993, Wiskerke 2007), my own research gradually started to crystalize around the emergence of new spatial realities beyond ‘rural’  and ‘urban’.  At the background of this interest is the will to understand how people address inequality and uncertainty, and how they sustain themselves individually and collectively, socially and spatially. Continue reading

75th Anniversary: 11) Notes from the field: Agricultural Development in Rojava and Resistance of the Third Kind

Women’s cooperative farm in Rojava (2015)


In one of our previous blogs we discussed Van der Ploeg’s concept resistance of the Third Kind (see Anniversary Blog 7). This was defined as a resistance which resides in working practices and farmers’ fields and is expressed in the way that cows are bred, how manure is made, products are delivered. In short, it is a resistance which intervenes in and reorganizes production, reproduction and markets (Van der Ploeg 2007). In this blog, the reconstruction of Kobanî is discussed a resistance of the third kind. Continue reading

75th Anniversary: 9) De Toga: overleefde hiërarchie of dalend cultuurgoed

Professor Kooij met toga, bef en baret

Parallel aan de democratisering van de universiteit in de jaren zestig en zeventig, met de voor die tijd kenmerkende opkomst van vakgroepsbestuur, in plaats van de almachtige hoogleraar, en inspraak door studenten, kwam ook universiteitssymboliek onder vuur te liggen. Een van die symbolen was de toga, het kenmerkende gewaad dat de hoogleraar draagt bij plechtigheden. De sociologen Gerrit Kooij en Rien Munters openden de discussie over het aan de wilgen hangen van de toga. Continue reading

75th Anniversary: 8) Kyoto meets Wageningen, Political Economy meets Rural Sociology

Countryside excursion at the 2016 Graduate Workshop


The collaboration between the group of rural sociology at Wageningen University and the group of agri-food political economy at Kyoto University officially started in July 2014, when we signed a letter of intent to foster international cooperation in education and research. This was first materialised when Kyoto University invited Dirk Roep in February 2015, and Guido Ruivenkamp and Joost Jongerden in March 2015 (http://agst.jgp.kyoto-u.ac.jp/topics/report/376). Their visit to Kyoto kickstarted a series of intensive lectures given by invited RSO members as well as a series of joint workshops between the two groups either in Kyoto or in Wageningen, as explained below. Continue reading

75th Anniversary: 7) Rural Sociology and Resistance of the Third Kind

Women farmers in Rojava (2015)


When it comes to the agrarian question, academia has been deeply divided. At the risk of caricature, there is one school of thought that considers the process of capitalist development a force that moves history progressively forward and another that takes the creative agency of people as the primary force of development. Historically, the Rural Sociology Group belongs to the latter school. The work on farming styles, meaningful diversity, new peasantries and foodscapes gave expression to the idea of this creative agency (Hofstee 1982, Ploeg 2008, Wiskerke 2009). In this blog, I will explore the importance of the agency concept through Van der Ploeg’s concept of resistance. Continue reading

75th Anniversary: 6) The Cartophoot: Hofstee’s geographic mapping of difference

Picture 1. The cartophoot

In 1949, three years after his appointment as professor in social and economic geography, the ‘trojan horse’ through which rural sociology entered Wageningen, Evert Willem (E.W.) Hofstee became the chair of a commission to study the development of fertility in the Netherlands.[1] This Commission for Birth Research (Commissie voor het Geboorte-Onderzoek)[2] was part of the Institute for Social Research of the Dutch People (Instituut voor Sociaal Onderzoek van het Nederlandse Volk [ISONOVO]). Continue reading

75th Anniversary: 5) Sociology as Sociography

“Korenveld” by Lianne Koster – licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

When Evert Willem (E.W.) Hofstee, founding father of rural sociology in the Netherlands, started his academic career as a lecturer at Groningen University in 1938, he defined his work as ‘sociography’ (Hofstee 1938). In this, he was clearly following in the footsteps of his teacher and tutor, Sebald Rudolf Steinmetz (1862- 1940), who had created the new discipline from a fusion of sociology and geography (Karel 2002: 2-3). Only later would Hofstee add the word “sociology” to the domain of his work. Thus, the department (“vakgroep”) he established and headed at the Agricultural University in Wageningen from 1954 onwards was named “sociography and sociology” before being renamed as “sociology”, and then, more precisely, “rural sociology”. Nevertheless, until the end of his life, he remained committed to the agenda of “sociography”: a grounded theoretical approach with low levels of abstraction and high probability of practical application (Hofstee 1938, Hofstee 1982; Karel 2002). Continue reading