75th Anniversary: 21) Geographies of power and rebellious social sciences

Garfagnana, Italy – picture by Jordan Treakle

by Jordan Treakle

My path to WUR’s Rural Sociology Group (RSO) differed from most of my fellow Masters students when I first arrived to Wageningen in August 2015. As a second-year student in the International Masters in Rural Development (IMRD) programme[1], I had spent the first year of my programme nomadically exploring the academic halls of the University of Ghent (Belgium), Humboldt University (Germany), and the University of Pisa (Italy) with my 27 fellow IMRDers. This unique and fast paced academic tour of Europe gave me a range of academic lens on agricultural economies and cooperative development in food systems that were enriching and informative. But these perspectives generally had not touched on the complex geographies of power and agency that I found most compelling. Luckily WUR’s small but worldly campus, with all of its contentious influences of corporate agribusiness research and rebellious social science scholarship, offered a critical forum to both intellectually digest the lessons of the other academic institutions I had visited during the first year of my programme, as well as dive into rural sociological concepts that reconfigured my relationship to place and later guided young career in farmer advocacy and agricultural policy. Continue reading

75th Anniversary: 20) Boerengroep

Boerenprotest tegen melkprijs- ongedateerd, archief Boerengroep

Het is al weer 50 jaar geleden dat de Boerengroep[1] werd opgericht in een roerige tijd van grootschalige boerenprotesten. Een Europese demonstratie van boeren in Brussel op 23 maart 1971 liep uit op een confrontatie met de politie. Er gingen tientallen auto’s in vlammen opgingen en één boer vond de dood (klik op deze link voor een nieuwsverslag over deze betoging uit 1971)[2]. De demonstratie maakte duidelijk dat er onder boeren en boerinnen grote ontevredenheid was over het gevoerde Europese landbouwbeleid. Continue reading

75th Anniversary: 19) The Boerinnengroep Wageningen: looking back

In the 1977, we, a group of women students and graduates, mostly in Rural Sociology, founded the so-called ‘Boerinnengroep’, which translates as ‘farm women’s group’[1]. The Boerinnengroep has contributed to new agendas of farmer and rural women’s organisations, agricultural policy and academia. It has also put, in a way, a strong imprint on our lives and careers. In this blog we look back. Continue reading

75th Anniversary: 18) On Eros, Rural Encounters and Local Responses: Rural Sociology’s 25th and 50th anniversary

Since Wageningen rural sociology celebrates its 75th anniversary, this implies we had two previous anniversaries: the 25th and the 50th. At both occasions, anniversary books were published.

Images and Realities of Rural Life (click on the title to get access to the book) was published at the occasion of 50 years Wageningen rural sociology. Edited by Henk de Haan and Norman Long, the anniversary book offers “a sample of recent work by sociology staff members and sketches out possible future trajectories” (Haan and Long 1997: vii). The book does not look back, as claims to reputation should be built on achievements, and not on the past, the editors state. “Ancestral rituals have their function in strengthening the sense of identity among current staff members and students, and may also serve as an historical claim on the present and future existence of a robust sociology in Wageningen”, yet the identity and standing of sociology in Wageningen, the editors contend, should be constructed on current “research profile, thinking and academic performance” (ibid.). Continue reading

MSc thesis opportunity: Sustainable Food Systems Research for Impact

Duration: 6 months

Language: English

Credits: 33-36 ECTS (programme dependent)

Start Date: As soon as possible 

Are you passionate about food system transformation?  We are looking for students to review 20 years of practical case studies, which have been conducted for international research and innovation projects, and to follow up on key cases of food system transformation, looking at success and failure. Your job will be to dig deep into real-world examples of people, organizations and networks that are trying to change our food systems.  You will identify trends, opportunities and challenges and drawing on sociological theories, you will analyse the data to help advance our understanding of food system transformation.

The supervision team includes:

  • Professor Han Wiskerke, Chair of RSO
  • Dr Jessica Duncan, Associate Professor in RSO


  • MSc student from MDR, MID, MOA, MCH and MFT who wish to work on an RSO thesis.
  • Candidates should have a strong interest in food system research and a passion for social justice.
  • Candidates should have good knowledge of (and preferably experience with) qualitative research methods, in particular document analysis and interviewing.
  • Very good organizational skills and experience/interest in developing databases is an asset.  

If interested please contact jessica.duncan@wur.nl

75th Anniversary: 17) Multifunctional farming in development: education at the care farm

Multifunctional farming (an umbrella term to indicate a combination of agriculture and services to society, wur.nl) has been a research subject for the Rural Sociology Group for decades, as multifunctionality is one of the diversification strategies employed by farming to sustain their farms and connect with various groups in society such as consumers or tourists. The first multifunctional activities were nature conservation, agritourism/recreation, care farming, farm shops/short chains, farm education and agricultural day care. These activities, however, are subject to constant change. This leads to new research topics and new collaborations for the Rural Sociology Group. Continue reading

Thesis ‘Ervaringen op de Biologische moestuin’

Het Leger des Heils heeft de wetenschapswinkel van Wageningen UR gevraagd onderzoek te doen naar verschillende aspecten van haar biologische moestuin in Amsterdam Noord, één van haar vier werkbedrijven.

Deelnemers die op de tuin komen vormen een kwetsbare groep: zij worstelen veelal met complexe problemen, op diverse levensgebieden. Hoewel hun begeleiders aangeven dat de tuin voor veel van hen een fijne plek is om te zijn en te werken, kent de tuin ook een aantal moeilijkheden. Eén daarvan is dat niet alle plekken op de tuin bezet zijn: niet alle woonbegeleiders van het Leger des Heils lijken de weg naar de tuin te kunnen vinden voor hun cliënten.

Eén van de doelstellingen van het project is daarom inzicht te geven in wat de tuin betekent voor deelnemers, en wat redenen zijn om juist niet (meer) op de tuin te willen werken. Daarom bieden wij een thesismogelijkheid met de volgende onderzoeksvraag aan:

Wat zijn de ervaringen van deelnemers en oud-deelnemers met de biologische moestuin van het Leger des Heils in Amsterdam-Noord? Wat zijn redenen van niet-deelnemers om niet op de tuin te willen werken?

Mogelijke onderzoeksmethoden: literatuurstudie over mogelijke effecten van het werken in een groene omgeving op de (mentale) gezondheid, en interviews met deelnemers en niet-deelnemers.

Zie voor meer informatie over het project: https://www.wur.nl/nl/Onderwijs-Opleidingen/wetenschapswinkel/Projecten/Show/Groene-begeleiding-Leger-des-Heils-de-biologische-moestuin.htm

Geïnteresseerd? Mail esther.veen@wur.nl

Thesis (or internship) opportunity – Urban Agriculture: developing a typology within a European Context

MSc-Thesis/internship opportunity

Duration: 6 months

Language: English

Start Date: As soon as possible

The European Forum for a Comprehensive Vision on Urban Agriculture (EFUA) has the objective to unlock Urban Agriculture’s potential by achieving better knowledge, better deployment, and better policies in this field. The Chair groups Rural Sociology and Health and Society and Wageningen Plant Research are managing a work package that aims to update knowledge on the types and benefits of Urban Agriculture (e.g. social cohesion, local food provision, health, biodiversity, business generation). We are looking for students who have an interest to collaborate in this European Forum to identify stakeholders, and develop a typology of urban agriculture. Your work will be the starting point for understanding the benefits of Urban Agriculture. The research also supports a European agenda on urban agriculture, co-designed within EFUA.

Contact information: Esther Veen (esther.veen@wur.nl), Lenneke Vaandrager and Jan Eelco Jansma

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