Supporting Women-Led Innovations in Farming and Rural Territories (SWIFT)

In March 2023, three Rural Sociology Group researchers (and one RSO intern) attended the kick-off meeting for the EU-funded SWIFT project. RSO leads the part of the project on Gender-Responsive Rural Policies across the EU, with Oxfam Belgium.

Jessica Duncan, Georgia Diamanti, Greta Capaite, Els Hegger from RSO participate in the SWIFT meeting in Agres, Spain

In what follows, SWIFT researcher Georgia Diamanti shares some of her experiences and reflections.

What is the SWIFT project?

SWIFT, which stands for Supporting Women-Led Innovations in Farming and Rural Territories, is a Horizon Europe project set up with the purpose to advance the position of women and LGBTQI+ persons in farming, and to moreover investigate how agroecological processes can promote gender equality. Agriculture is masculine: only 30% of all agriculture in Europe is practiced by women and, when you go higher up, at the relevant policy decision-making boards, women are almost absent. It is against this context that SWIFT is operating.

At the time of the project meeting, I had just been working at Wageningen University and on this project for a little over a month but was quite excited at the prospect of getting to join the rest of the project members in Spain for our kickoff meeting. The organizations and institutions that were part of SWIFT were spread across Europe and as such we mostly only knew each other over Zoom meetings.  

We arrived on Sunday evening, following a scenic drive through the Spanish mountainside – just as the sunset’s final colors filtered through the trees. The house we were to spend the coming week, “Riera d’Agres”, was a beautifully restored property that used to function, as we later found out, as a children’s farm camp. Here, children were taught agroecological principles and a consciousness of the work that goes into getting food on a plate. It felt like a very fitting venue for the occasion. Slowly, we gathered in the dining hall.

SWIFT participants rest and connecyt outside Riera d'Agres

SWIFT participants rest and connecyt outside Riera d’Agres

As we sat for our first dinner, persons who we had thus far known only as faces on our screens began one by one to materialize. After handshakes and warm hugs were exchanged, people seemed to enter into lively conversations. It was clear how we were all connected by common interests and values. It made coexistence feel comfortable and natural, almost from the very start. Amidst the excitement to have made it and to find ourselves in such a beautiful place after a long journey (that had preceded for the majority of us) there was also a detectable feeling of uncertainty, about what was to come in these 5 days we were set to spend in Agres. Not much later, satiated by the flavourful food that was served to us by our hosts, we retired to our rooms for the night, excited for the week to begin.

To give some context to the week, it was to be split into two parts overall; Monday and Tuesday were for the SWIFT group to get introduced, and to brainstorm about project expectations, concerns, etc., while Wednesday to Friday was to be focused on bringing in the experiences of the WLIs. For this part, women (and one non-binary) farmers were invited to join in our activities, while also being given the space to share their experiences and desires for the project.

The very logic behind SWIFT was for it to grow in a more organic, bottom-up approach – one that incorporated the experiences of those affected by the policies within the process itself. To make the producers from research object to research subject. Here, we were even joined by three women who had come all the way from Brazil who worked with various feminist and agroecological organizations, and Maggie who operated an LGBTQI+ farm in New York. While not directly under the scope of SWIFT (which focuses on the EU) their purpose was to share and inspire – something which they most definitely did.

The latter part of the week was the more emotional one. Seeing the women speak about their experiences and the emotion with which they articulated their troubles, concerns, and hopes resonated visibly with the rest of the group. I recall briefly scanning the room while one of the producers was speaking, only to find tears gleaming in many of the attentive faces as we listened together. It was nice to see that not only had the space we’d created allowed so many of us to be open and vulnerable but also that this process was growing as intended, in collaboration with those whose lives the research concerns.

During the final days, we spoke also of concrete ways in which to help achieve the goals of SWIFT – here I refer not only to our strict deliverables to the EU but also further ways through which the project could truly be of assistance to the Women Led initiatives (WLIs) and their daily struggles. We talked a lot about the possibility (and responsibility) of research as a form of activism. And so, although it’s true that SWIFT had a lot of policy-related deliverables, we also spoke of how we could, in parallel work to change the general narrative; speaking even of facilitating a feminist school or a documentary (ideas that seemed to receive high support from the majority).

If anything, even the academic literature itself continuously points out cultural norms and normative expectations as barriers to women being able to realize their full potential, particularly in the developed world where strict legal barriers to land ownership are not present as they are in developing countries but where barriers nevertheless persist. As such, while collaborating with EU institutions is important, other soft-power strategies may be worth investing in.

Georgia Diamanti is a Researcher with the SWIFT project. She has been working on this since February 2023. She holds an MSc in Political Science from the University of Amsterdam and will soon start a PhD in the Rural Sociology Group on gender and rural policies, with a focus on social and environmental sustainability.

Kees Jansen joins the Journal of Agrarian Change

Kees Jansen of Rural Sociology has joined the Journal of Agrarian Change’s editiorial team.The Journal of Agrarian Change is the leading journal of agrarian political economy. It promotes investigation of the social relations and dynamics of production, property and power in agrarian formations and their processes of change, both historical and contemporary. It encourages work within a broad interdisciplinary framework, informed by theory, and serves as a forum for serious comparative analysis and scholarly debate. Kees Jansen was guest editor of the Special Issue:
Autonomy in agrarian studies, politics, and movements: An inter-paradigm debate

Check this space: Future jobs

Over the next few months, the Rural Sociology Group will be hiring research assistants, PhDs, and PostDocs.

Be sure to follow us to keep up-to-date and informed on these exciting opportunities.

Two vacancies are already open for research positions starting February 1, 2023. These positions are ideal for recent MSc graduates. Note the deadline to submit is 8 December 2022.

Research Position: Citizen Engagement Strategies to support Food Sharing (Deadline 8 Dec 2022)

Click here to apply

The Rural Sociology Group of Wageningen University is looking for a Research Assistant to work on citizen-engagement strategies to support food sharing initiatives. This research is part of a 4-year EU-funded project.

The position is for 16 months at 0.8 FTE and will be based in the Rural Sociology Group in Wageningen University.

The start date is 1 February 2023, and the position will end on 30 May 2024.

In this exciting research position:

  • You will undertake an independent, systematic desk review of social norms, cultures, local conditions, and citizen engagement around food sharing innovation.
  • You will undertake a SWOT analysis of the citizen engagement strategies.
  • You will interview at least 15 stakeholders to validate and expand on the review.
  • You will work as part of a team to translate the insights from this review into user-facing tools.
  • You will also contribute to an EU database of food sharing initiatives.

We ask

We are looking for a candidate with:

  • A Passion for food sharing and citizenship engagement.
  • BSc (and preferably an MSc) in a social science discipline, ideally with a background in food studies and an understanding of the kinds of social and cultural norms and local conditions that shape food sharing.
  • Experience doing systematic literature reviews and conducting semi-structured interviews
  • Strong analytic and communication skills, ability to process complex information and translate it into accessible and usable formats.
  • Fluency in English is required, ability to speak Dutch, Spanish and/or Italian is an advantage.

More information
Additional inquiries should be addressed to Dr Jessica Duncan ( with the subject CULTIVATE Researcher.

Do you want to apply?

Applications can be submitted through the Wageningen University Vacancy Website.

To apply, you will need to upload the following:

  • Letter of motivation, clarifying your interest in the position and research experience
  • A current Curriculum Vitae, including names and contact details of two referees
  • A writing sample (e.g. a chapter from your thesis, blog post, or assignment from a class)

Please note that only applications sent through the online application process will be taken into consideration.

Important Dates

This vacancy will be listed up to and including  8 December 2022. 

The job interviews will be scheduled on 16 December 2022.

Candidates are expected to start the position 1 February 2023.

We offer

You are going to work at the greenest and most innovative campus in Holland, and at a university that has been chosen as the “Best University” in the Netherlands for the 18th consecutive time.

Equal opportunities
Wageningen University & Research (WUR) employs a large number of people with very different backgrounds and qualities, who inspire and motivate each other. We want every talent to feel at home in our organization and be offered the same career opportunities. We therefore especially welcome applications from people who are underrepresented at WUR. For more information please go to our inclusivity page. A good example of how WUR deals with inclusiveness can be read on the page working at WUR with a functional impairment.

Wageningen University and Research
The mission of Wageningen University and Research is “To explore the potential of nature to improve the quality of life”. Under the banner Wageningen University & Research, Wageningen University, and the specialized research institutes of the Wageningen Research Foundation have joined forces in contributing to finding solutions to important questions in the domain of healthy food and living environment.

With its roughly 30 branches, 7.200 employees, and 13.200 students, Wageningen University & Research is one of the leading organizations in its domain. An integrated approach to problems and cooperation between various disciplines are at the heart of Wageningen’s unique approach. WUR has been named Best Employer in the Education category for 2019-2020.

The Rural Sociology Group (RSO)
A more detailed profile of the Rural Sociology Group can be found in its 75th Anniversary book ‘On meaningful diversity: past, present and future of Wageningen rural sociology’.

Central to the research program of the Rural Sociology is a relational approach to transformation processes, explored from the perspective of the everyday life of people, with a focus on agrarian and rural change, food provisioning, and place-based development. These processes are studied from a range of critical perspectives (e.g. interpretative and micro-sociological perspectives, cultural political economy, or governmentality studies). We actively engage in interdisciplinary (including collaborations with natural scientists), multi-method and multi-stakeholder approaches. A common denominator in our research is the focus on actors, agency, the institutionalization of practices, differential development paths, and political organization.

Our mission is to contribute to the development of sustainable and socially acceptable modes of farming, food provisioning, and rural development, which foster social and spatial justice. Through our research we attempt to un-familiarize the familiar and undertake critical analyses, but, importantly, also be transformative by engaging in the exploration of new practices and by showing a diversity of credible options beyond dominant understandings and constellations. A key characteristic of our research program is its threefold relevance: it should contribute to the scientific development of our field and scientific discipline(s), inform policymaking and provide support for practitioners.

The Rural Sociology Group is embedded in the sub-department Space, Place & Society (SPS)  together with two other chair groups: Health & Society (HSO) and Sociology of Development and Change (SDC). Within SPS the groups share administrative support and collaborate in education. Together with the Cultural Geography group the sub-department Space, Place and Society has founded the Centre for Space, Place and Society (CSPS), which aims to advance critical-constructive scholarship within the social sciences with a particular focus on issues of socio-spatial inequalities and social and environmental justice. Within the CSPS the chair groups participate in research and PhD supervision and training.

More information about Wageningen University, the Rural Sociology Group, the sub-department SPS and CSPS can be obtained through one of the following links.

75th Anniversary Rural Sociology – The After Movie

75th anniversary event

On 13 May 2022, we celebrated the 75th anniversary of the Rural Sociology Group of Wageningen University with a public event entitled “Rural Sociology: past, present and future”. The event took place in Akoesticum in Ede and was attended by approximately 130 people: current and former staff members, current and former MSc and PhD students, and current and former collaborators in (inter)national research projects. In addition to this event we wrote and edited a book entitled ‘On Meaningful Diversity: Past, present and future of Wageningen rural sociology’ and a group of (former) PhD students put together a PhD magazine. Both are open access publications.

The entire anniversary event was filmed and a 16 minute compilation video of the day can be found here:

Compilation video of the 75th anniversary event of the Rural Sociology Group

In addition all presentations and talks are available online in order of the program of the day:

  1. Opening by Arthur Mol (Rector Magnificus of Wageningen University)
  2. Keynote by Han Wiskerke: Meaningful diversity: Past, present and future of rural sociology
  3. Keynote by Haroon Akram-Lodhi: From peasant studies to critical agrarian studies
  4. Rural Talk Show:  Interactive session including invited guests and audience participation. The Talk Show was chaired by Matt Reed, with Jan Douwe van der Ploeg as a permanent table guest, and changing table guests around the following three themes:
    • Session 1– Societal engagement or academic distance; with Jessica Duncan, Aya Kimura, Han Wiskerke
    • Session 2 – Discussing the rural-urban dichotomy; with Henk Oostindie, Sally Shortall, Esther Veen
    • Session 3 – A continuing debate: agency and structure; with Bettina Bock, Bram Büscher, Mark Vicol
  5. Closure morning session by stand-up musician Bart Kiers
  6. Keynote by Hannah Wittman: Bridging rural and urban through agroecological networks: cultivating agrarian citizenship in a climate crisis
  7. Presentation of Research Agendas: Imagining the next 25 years of rural sociology. Interactive session around three research agendas, briefly pitched by RSO staff, followed by an open floor exchange of ideas and discussion:
    • Pitch 1– Agriculture – introduction Kees Jansen
    • Pitch 2 – Place – introduction Joost Jongerden
    • Pitch 3 – Food – introduction Jessica Duncan
  8. Closure afternoon session by stand-up musician Bart Kiers