In our previous blog, we wrote that to understand the overall evolution of farmer protests around the nitrogen crisis, Jaap Frouws’ doctoral dissertation Mest en Macht (Manure and Power, 1994) is highly relevant. Among others, his work provides a an important entry point into the history and the crisis of farmers’ representation and cooptation in agricultural policies in the Netherlands.
Master student Emil Dutour Geerling delved into this question of representation in his recently defended thesis on the contemporary farmers’ protests. At the time Jaap Frouws did his important work on the politics of the manure crisis in the 1990s, the first cracks had become visible in the bulwark of farmers’ representation. Today, almost three decades later, the landscape of representation has changed dramatically. The long-time alliance between national farmers organizations, political parties and the ministry of agriculture, has become history. Feeling under- or not-represented, and, importantly, not heard, discontented farmers established a defense force. This Farmers Defense Force was able to mobilize thousands of farmers, who were prepared to take a more confrontational approach, blocking highways and retail distribution centers, and converged on provincial government buildings.
In his work, Dutour-Geerling explains the form the protests take from the crisis in representation. Yet, he explains the cause of these protests in terms of a crisis of accumulation. Many of the protesting farmers have built their business strategy on the idea of continuous growth, yet the new nitrogen and phosphate regulations make this business strategy untenable.
This crisis of representation and crisis of accumulation creates a ‘biographical disruption’: the future that farmers perceived for themselves and their farms is not feasible anymore. This asks for a reconsideration of their idea of farming, and their self-perception as farmers. Changing their farming strategy is, if possible at all, costly; the rethinking of their farmers’ identity painful. This explains the fierceness of the protests.
Emil Dutour Geerling. 2021. Understanding the Dutch protesting farmer: A politically informed actor-oriented research into the perceptions of Dutch protesting farmers, Master Thesis Rural Sociology in partial fulfilment of the degree of Master of Science in International Development Studies at Wageningen University, the Netherlands
Join us to explore predicaments of agriculture, biodiversity, and conservation with a focus on CONVIVIALITY –where plants, animals, and humans attempt to live and thrive together.
The all-virtual, open-access, asynchronous conference will take place the week of October 4-10, 2021, featuring 6 keynote interventions, research presentations, and commentary from scholars, indigenous practitioners, and farmers from around the world.
In a time of pandemic, climate change, and unprecedented demands on our time and attention, the asynchronous, virtual format means that your engagement can be as flexible and intense as you can accommodate at this time. Attendees are asked to watch presentations on demand, and engage with written comments — although audio and visual interventions are possible as well.
While writing the first sentences of this blog (7 July 2021), more than hundred tractors of angry farmers drive through the lawns of the campus of Wageningen University as one of many farmer protests against proposed Dutch government policies to reduce nitrogen emissions in agriculture. A farmer spokesman states that this university is an extension of the Ministry of Agriculture (LNV): Wageningen university is writing reports on request of the government against the interests of farmers and it is just suborned to defend environmentalist positions. Farmer protests on the campus grounds are something new as far as I know, but not farmer protests against restrictive environmental policies.
To understand the overall evolution of farmer protests around the nitrogen crisis, Jaap Frouws’ doctoral dissertation Mest en macht (Manure and Power) (1994) about the politics of the manure crisis in the Netherlands is highly relevant. Three reasons inspired me to write here about this academic work on agrarian corporatism written two and a half decades ago. First, when I was a master student Jaap Frouws provided an example that academics can be intellectually inspiring and accessible, kind, and humble at the same time. I consider him as an important figure in the 75 year history of the Rural Sociology group and his untimely death has been a great loss for Wageningen rural sociology. Second, Mest en macht provides a key entry point into the history of farmers’ representation in the conflict between agricultural and environmental demands and after three decades it has lost nothing of its urgency. Finally, Frouw’s pioneering work has become a point of reference for later researchers on manure narratives, such as Marian Stuiver’s PhD thesis (2008) and Janne Hemminki’s recent master thesis (2021) on the current nitrogen crisis. But not everybody reads Dutch, so this blog hopes to draw the attention of English readers to Frouw’s classic Dutch text. One may not be able to read it but could become interested in reading some of Frouws’ articles derived from it.
The main theme in Mest en macht is the nature and decay of agrarian neo-corporatism represented by the Board of Agriculture (Landbouwschap) in the Netherlands. Founded in 1954, the Board of Agriculture―composed of representatives of the three major farmer unions and the labour union of agricultural workers―represented the interests of the whole agricultural sector as a public law organization. Interesting is how Frouws analyses how the state constructed the organization of farmer representation, rejecting to negotiate with an amalgam of different representative bodies and deciding to negotiate and collaborate with one composite organization only. Through this horizontal union model the farmer organizations as a whole became co-responsible for government policy. For several decades this structure would incorporate and reduce the autonomy of vertical product-based, specialized associations. Frouws analyses how this neo-corporatism was structured through a set of resources and rules that resulted in a strong cooperation between state and representative organizations. The representational monopoly was strengthened through providing early information about planned policies to the Board of Agriculture and giving it privileged influence. The strong involvement of farmer organizations via the Board of Agriculture provided legitimacy to government policies as the Board was functional in disciplining the farmer organizations’ constituencies.
Environmental crises, however, have increasingly affected this representational model. One key problem has been the excessive amount of manure produced by the livestock sector which could not all be incorporated into soils due to new environmental regulation. The key argument of Mest en macht is that the growing ‘manure problem’ created or deepened rifts in the so-called ‘Green Front’. It was increasingly difficult for corporatism to keep divergent interests under political control. For example, views of farmer organizations in the North of the Netherlands clashed with those from the South. Farmers in the North had relatively more space to apply to the field their manure whereas the South had more manure surplus regions. Consequently, they had divergent views on the use of duties (to be paid to handle the manure surpluses) for, for example, transport subsidies. Such differences in interests led repeatedly to political confrontations and consequently to obstruction of policy consensus regarding the amplitude and pace of manure policies, the distribution of financial contributions to transporting and processing manure surpluses, and the regulations on buying and selling manure ‘quotas’. Within the state, policy formulation in this domain became less dominated by the Ministry of Agriculture which for a long time simply had organized and defended farmer demands through delegating policy formulation to the Board of Agriculture. Other voices speaking for environmental interests and, for example, members of parliament, gradually became less excluded from policy formulation around the manure crisis.
Frouws does not perceive this decay of agrarian neo-corporatism as a single monocausal unidirectional process. Instead, via an exhaustive empirical study of interview data, minutes of meetings, a survey of farmers’ perception of representation, and participant observation in meetings, Frouws describes the many twist and turns, and tensions, deadlocks and contradictions over time. He reveals many examples of an effective lobby by livestock interest groups to soften or delay restrictive policies. Hence, while on the one hand the neo-corporatist policy-making community could not resolve the manure crisis and its political control of the issue lessened, farmer activism resulted on the other hand in delaying strategies and obstruction of policy formulation to address the manure crisis. Crucial questions regarding the restructuring the livestock sector were pushed aside in favour of maintaining the competitiveness and the export capacity of livestock production, thus precluding any discussion of reducing its volume.
Reading the empirical details of these confrontations, delays, and obstructions as presented by Frouws―with an emphasis on what happened in the 1980s―leaves the impression not of Manure and Power (Mest en macht) but of Manure and Powerlessness (Mest en onmacht). The issue of manure surplus was not resolved, the state was not able to envision proposals for restructuring of the livestock sector, and farmer representation fragmented. While Frouws did not predict anything about the future of the Board of Agriculture, the pivot of agrarian neo-corporatism in the Netherlands at that time, he rightly observed its decay. Not so long after his dissertation was published, the Board would be dissolved and the representation of farmer interests shifted to a more diffused model driven by specialized, product-based farmers’ associations.
Mest and macht is most important for what it offers in terms of empirical data, the analysis of neo-corporatism, and a political sociology of agriculture. The thesis centralizes the political sociology of representation whereby the technicalities of the manure problem are relegated to an appendix. Today with all the talk about assemblages or hybrids, nature/technology-society interaction would likely get a more pronounced treatment in a thesis. Instead, Mest en macht offers a middle range sociological theory about agrarian neo-corporatism and it is Frouws’ history of manure policies which provides us with interesting questions of how to look at the contemporary political upheaval which made farmers invading Wageningen University’s campus.
Similar dynamics as described by Frouws shape the current episode of the manure/N-emission crisis. The farmer protests in 2019, initiated by relatively small farmer activist groups, resulted in a momentary new Green Front, when the government negotiated about nitrogen emission policies with the Landbouw Collectief (the Agricultural Collective), a newly formed platform composed of many different farmer organizations. Like half a century ago, the government preferred to negotiate with just one representational body of farmers only. However, within months the participating organizations disagreed about the structure of the Landbouw Collectief and it felled apart as quickly as it had emerged. The strategies of ‘talking with the government to co-develop policies’ and ‘political activism to demand respect and farmer freedom’ turned out extremely difficult to combine. Of course, not everything is the same, as nowadays many farmers have incorporated ‘sustainability’ in their farm operations. But the challenges defined by Frouws of getting farmers involved in environmental regulation, “accepting responsibility for ‘general’ interests such as the protection of nature”, and accepting the need to discuss a restructuring of the livestock sector, remain as big and as relevant as 25 years ago. It might help to face these challenges if activists, policy makers, and politicians would read Frouws’ classic on farmer representation and environmental crisis.
Frouws, Jaap (1994). Mest en macht: Een politiek-sociologische studie naar belangenbehartiging en beleidsvorming inzake de mestproblematiek in Nederland vanaf 1970. Wageningen University (PhD Dissertation).
Hemminki, Janne (2021). The Nitrogen-crisis and social differentiations in the Dutch livestock sector. Wageningen University (unpublished MSc thesis).
Stuiver, Marian (2008). Regime change and storylines : a sociological analysis of manure practices in contemporary Dutch dairy farming. Wageningen University (PhD Dissertation).
Mundane normativity and the everyday handling of contested food consumption by prof. Bente Halkier, University of Copenhagen, August 30, 16.00-17.30 (CET):
“Food in everyday life is contested from multiple kinds of public debates in present societies such as climate, health, risk, environment and quality, which point to food consumption in everyday life as a site of normative action In the various strands of sociological research on consumption, contested consumption has typically been studied in two strands One strand tends to focus on the mundane routines in consumption that are reproduced, thus to some degree avoiding the normative dimension in the consumption activities themselves Another strand tends to focus directly on political and ethical consumption, thus to some degree ignoring the more mundane dealings with the normative dimension. My contention is that there is some middle ground to cover between each of the two otherwise valuable strands of consumption research if consumption research is to understand the normative dimension of consumption more fully In order to conceptualize such middle ground, an unfolding of the category of mundane normativity and its conditions is useful, and food consumption in everyday life is a clear example with which to think.“
The talk is part of the Rural Sociology 75th Anniverary webinar series ‘Looking back, Looking Forward: Setting a future agenda for rural sociology’.
Ons voedselsysteem is verre van duurzaam. De huidige voedselconsumptie en -productiepatronen dragen sterk bij aan een aantal urgente duurzaamheidsopgaven op het gebied van de gezondheid en welzijn van mens, dier en planeet. Deze duurzaamheidsopgaven zijn geen losstaande problemen; het zijn gerelateerde symptomen van een niet-duurzaam voedselsysteem. In de Nederlandse agrofood sector en daarbuiten zijn vele innovatieve ondernemers, burgers, coalities en andere partijen al actief bezig met de verduurzaming van het voedselsysteem, bijvoorbeeld in het realiseren van korte ketens, het verbinden van stad en platteland, de eiwittransitie, regeneratieve, natuur-inclusieve landbouw en true cost accounting. Daarin is er een groeiende beweging naar gebiedsgericht werken met regionaal georganiseerde netwerken die aansluiten op landschappelijke kenmerken, biodiversiteit, de culturele eigenheid en sociale verbanden van een regio. In een landelijk project gefinancierd door de NWO gaan we in kaart brengen wat voor soort initiatieven in verschillende regio’s zijn ontwikkeld die kunnen bijdragen aan de gewenste transitie en hoe ze aan hun ambities werken.
De thesis/stage opdracht
Je kunt binnen dit landelijke project bijdragen aan de analyse van de verschillen en overeenkomsten tussen initiatieven in doelen, aanpak, betrokken partners en belemmeringen en kansen. Er is een vragenlijst opgesteld waarmee de kenmerken van een groot aantal regionale initiatieven in kaart worden gebracht. Als vervolgstap kun je regionale initiatieven benaderen en met hen verder in beeld brengen wat hun doelen en ambities zijn, welke kansen en belemmeringen zij ervaren, wat hun strategie is om bij te dragen aan veranderingen en wat hun impact zij willen bereiken op sociaal, ecologisch en economisch gebied.
Je kunt je ook richten op één of enkele regionale initiatieven en met hen in een vorm van co-creatie verkennen hoe succesvol hun aanpak is, wat het initiatief tot dusver heeft bereikt op sociaal, ecologisch en economisch gebied, hoe de impact van het initiatief versterkt kan worden en hoe belemmeringen kunnen worden opgelost.
In the 1950s Professor E.W. Hofstee from the former department Sociology and Sociography developed a tool to create maps with statistical data of the Netherlands. You could consider this technique as a predecessor to today’s GIS. In this video Anton Schuurman, Associate Professor of Rural and Environmental History at WUR, explains how the puzzle was used and why it was so unique.
In an earlier Blog Joost Jongerden wrote about Hofstee’s Cartophoot[i]. In this blog I will write something about the actual map that can be seen on top of the cartophoot or Hofstee’s puzzle, as it was called, in the ground floor of the Leeuwenborch-building. I will argue that the map tells a lot about rural sociology after the Second World War – its research interests and methodologies.
The use of the maps demonstrate Hofstee’s training as a human geographer, his aversion of the American sociology of the time (with its undifferentiated and ahistorical approach of society) and the use of the cartophoot to study change in time (in a period that the number of Dutch municipalities almost did not change: 1138 in the middle of the nineteenth century; 1121 in 1950. Nowadays, there are only 352 municipalities in the Netherlands. Luckily, we have GIS now.)
Hofstee was a man who was involved in debates both in general sociology and rural sociology and international as well as national. He is responsible for the fact that we have good basic demographic figures on municipal level in the Netherlands, especially for the period 1811-1850. Those statistics were not collected by the Dutch Bureau for Statistics (CBS), nor by its forerunners. Hofstee’s demographic work was important for the debate on overpopulation – as it was perceived after the Second World War in the Netherlands – as well as for his work on rural modernisation in the 1950s – which was the central topic in the rural sociology of the time. Hofstee was strongly interested in the decline of fertility. For the discussion on overpopulation it was important to determine whether the rise of fertility after the Second World War was a temporary rise or a rupture with the long-term development of declining fertility due to family planning. For the discussion on (rural) modernization, family planning could serve as an indicator of which regions had a population with a modern attitude. For Hofstee, a modern attitude meant that people had a positive attitude towards change.
With the map that can be seen on top of the cartophoot Hofstee shows the increase/decrease of the crude birth rate between the fifties and the thirties of the twentieth century in the Netherlands. He uses a lot of shadings. To understand this map it is important that you know that red means that the birth rate has increased, and blue that the birth rate has decreased.
When you know a little bit of the Netherlands, its history and its geography you will know that the Southern provinces (Noord-Brabant and Limburg) were overwhelming Roman Catholic. The Roman Catholic population in the Netherlands (like the Orthodox Protestants) was well known for its high birth rate. But this map appears to show something different. In the same period that the crude birth rate for the country as a whole did not change: it remained 21.2, we see roughly in a line from Zeeland to Groningen a lot of red – in other words an increase – and in Noord-Brabant and Limburg a decrease. What is going on here?
First, you have to realize this is a map about changes in time, not about levels. In 1956-1959 the fertility for married women between 15-45 is 172.1 births per 1000 married women in the Netherlands. In Brabant and Limburg it is respectively 212.8 and 193.5 – which were indeed the highest provincial figures at that time (with Overijssel). The lowest were for Groningen (146.1) and Noord- and Zuid-Holland (152.3 and 153.1). In 1931-1935 these numbers were 269.1 (Noord-Brabant), 243.3 (Limburg), 141.2 (Noord-Holland) and 151.4 (Zuid-Holland) (Hofstee 1962, 23). Thus, although fertility declined, it remained high in the South of the Netherlands.
Second, and even more interesting, you should realize that the map that is on top of the cartophoot is in fact the fourth map that Hofstee published in his well-known article The growth of the Dutch population (De groei van de Nederlandse bevolking) in 1962. The combination of the four maps provides another, better frame of how to read this map.
In the first map Hofstee compared the crude birth rate in 1876-1880 with the period 1851-1855. Thus, what has happened in the third quarter of the nineteenth century in the Netherlands? The crude birth rate of the Netherlands as such increased from 33.7 tot 36.3. At the municipal level in most of the provinces (except Zeeland and West-Friesland) red is the dominant colour. The populations was growing. This is the point of departure.
The second and third maps are the central maps. In the second map he compares the crude birth rates in the period1901-1905 with the period 1876-1880. What had happened in the last quarter of the nineteenth century? The Dutch crude birth rate declined from 36.3 per 1000 inhabitants to 31.8. But when you look at the map you see a kind of two Netherlands: the coastal provinces being blue, most of the inland provinces blue.
In the third map he looked at the first quarter of the twentieth century and compared 1931-1935 with 1901-1905. The Dutch crude birth rate declined even further from 1931-1935 to 1901-1905 from 31.8 to 21.2 birth per 1000 of the population demonstrating that the process of family planning was accelerating and spreading. The map coloured almost completely dark blue, accept (mostly) for North-Brabant.
Now we can return to the fourth map (with which we started). Here one can say that he compared the second quarter of the twentieth century. Remarkably the crude birth rate did not change between 1956-1959 and 1931-1935. However, it had changed between these periods.
Mean crude birth rate
Source: Hofstee 1962, 15.
But more importantly, from the fact that the South now coloured blue we can see that after the Second World War the process of family planning/family limitation had reached the South too. Thus, the map should be read as a point in a process and not as just a comparison between two periods.
As said, Hofstee interpreted this process of fertility decline as a process of modernization. More and more families were prepared to practice modern family planning, demonstrating openness for change. Other sociologists, most well-known F. van Heek, interpreted the process as a process of secularization and differences between religions.
This discussion has been more or less settled with an article titled Demographic transition in the Netherlands. A statistical analysis of regional differences in the level and development of the birth rate and of fertility (1850-1890) by Onno Boonstra and Ad van der Woude (1984) from the Rural history group. They applied new and sophisticated statistical techniques to the data and concluded that although with regard to the level of fertility religion was the most important variable, this was not true for the development over time. Thus, one could say that they corroborated Hofstee’s interpretation, although he had not that strongly distinguished between level and development. Moreover, to explain the process of family planning/family limitation historians and other social scientists use the WAR-model by Lesthaeghe and Wilson. This is a combination of Willingness (desirability of family limitation increases when there is a decrease in family and labour intensive production with a flow of income from children to parents); Availability (availability of family limitation has never been a problem, although it has become better in time); and Readiness (are there cultural obstacles for practicing family limitation) (Lesthaeghe and Wilson 2017; Engelen 2009).
Hofstee, E.W. (1962). De groei van de Nederlandse bevolking. In A. N. J. den Hollander (Ed.), Drift en koers: een halve eeuw sociale verandering in Nederland (2e dr. ed., pp. 13-85). Assen: Van Gorcum.
Boonstra, Onno W. A., & van der Woude, Ad M. (1984). Demographic transition in the Netherlands. A statistical analysis of regional differences in the level and development of the birth rate and of fertility. AAG Bijdragen (24), 1-57.
Lesthaeghe, R., & Wilson, C. (2017). Modes of production, secularization, and the pace of the fertility decline in Western Europe, 1870-1930 The Decline of Fertility in Europe (pp. 261-292): Princeton University Press.
Engelen, Theo. (2009). Van 2 naar 16 miljoen mensen. Demografie van Nederland, 1800 – nu. Amsterdam: Boom.
The Rural Sociology Group of Wageningen University will celebrate its 75th Anniversary on the 13th of May 2022. Over the 75 years of the Group’s existence, characteristic features of the “Wageningen School” approach in rural sociology have been its comparative research, empirically grounded theoretical development, and a research output renowned for its scientific as well as for its political and practical relevance. At this celebration we will present, discuss, and reflect upon the past, present, and future challenges of rural sociology. We will do that in a lively, interactive setting with debate, workshops, and presentations.
The anniversary celebration will be organized around three thematic clusters:
Agrarian and rural development, with special attention to socio-economic dynamics and potentials at farm and regional level;
Food provisioning, the socio-spatial organization, and co-ordination of food production and consumption, with special attention to circularity, diverse food economies, and place-based food networks;
Urban-rural relations, with special attention to counter-urbanization, urban-rural fluidity, identity, and governance.
Register here if you want participate in our conference and join our celebration.
More details about the conference program will be published on this website soon!
Rural Sociology: Past, Present and Future is organized at the Akoesticum conference center, Nieuwe Kazernelaan 2D42, 6711 JC Ede, the Netherlands.
No, this is not a mantra from a self-help book for success or therapeutic healing but rather the final sentence in Ece Temelkuran’s new book Together, 10 choices for a better now. The book is a collection of ideas woven into stories that help to think new ways of relating to each other. The book invites the reader to think beyond the individualizing millstones of neoliberalism, which divides by reducing us to a-social transactional entities, and beyond those of the populist right, whose parochial cultural pride separates us into belligerent communities. Spinning and weaving moments and experiences of many kinds, novelist and commentator Ece Temelkuran presents 10 threads through which we can start doing and thinking another future in the here and now. Food for thought for rural sociologists.
The opening of the book recalls the phrase attributed to Frederic James, that it is easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine a political alternative for the economic and political system causing the world to end. This is what Temelkuran refers to as the magical ability of a status quo to make people believe that if the political and economic system we live in collapses, everything else will collapse with it. Around us we find mesmerizing experts who warn us like fearful ancient sailors that if we dare to sail into uncharted waters, we will fall off the edge of the world, notes Temelkuran. The “build back better” calls for post-pandemic times seem to confirm this atrophied imagination, that there is simply no alternative to the current economic and political system.
Fast backward. When, in 2001, George W. Bush called Americans to get over the 9/11 trauma, he found no better words than ‘go back shopping’, as Zygmunt Bauman reminded us. Consumption is the medicine. Today, no one has to tell us to go shopping, as the smart and less smart lock-downs are experienced first and foremost as a restriction of our ability to consume, now defined as the primary, sometimes only pillar of ‘freedom’. As the fullness of life has morphed into taking our fill of enjoyment and entertainment we queue to be allowed into Zara, Primark, or Footlocker, performing the entry rituals at disinfection stations. We do not even have to feel the guilt of collaboration with the dictates of consumerism since it has now become our very duty to consume with a larger mission: to save the economy through our marketplace activities and, in so doing, bail out the sinking ship of capitalism.
Ece Temelkuran’s sharp contextual sketch forms the starting point for series of key questions. Can we reshape our existence to survive a world that has transformed itself into a corporation? Can we imagine an economic policy beyond private property, one that renders the accumulation of capital both illegal and immoral? Can we learn to see the world again from an ethical perspective instead of a consumerist one? Yes, we can, she argues; we can reinvent ourselves and the world through even the smallest things, and not just to tranquilize our discomfort. All the small things we are actually already doing in which we address precarity and vulnerability can determine our future. Yet, the reader of this book should expect no recipes or prescriptions. Together offers leads, ideas from which we can start to further explore and give words to new possibilities and other futures.
One such lead is dignity, something our economic and political system not only does not value but also cannot come to terms with since, Temelkuran explains, it has no idea of the good. Another lead is enough, a term that she borrows from the novelist Kurt Vonnegut and which invalidates the contemporary ‘consumer’ identity through which we have learned to conceive ourselves. Yet another lead is faith, which Temelkuran contrasts with hope, or better, I would say, with messianic hope, which i) pacifies (as it puts the expectation of salvation onto others outside ourselves and submits to some higher power), ii) subjugates (since the hope that justice will be done keeps people obedient), and iii) procrastinates (since while hope remains unfulfilled, we are condemned to waiting). What Ece Temelkuran refers to as ‘faith’ could also be characterized as a ‘critical hope’, which is based on doing, questioning, and learning, a hope grounded in (daily) social practices and struggles.
In Together, economic and political morality emerge through the “10 choices” in addressing what Ece Temelkuran refers to as a “housing problem”: the national and international institutions through which we inhabit the world. These are worn out and offer no solutions. The question she raises is that of how to reinvent new ways to inhabit the world, together, to create new institutions based on a moral, political, and economic triangulation. The end of the book, however, also carries a warning: those who work with words have a responsibility to be careful in what they write and say. Mismanaged words have a habit of destroying lives – as the crushing weight of ‘modernization’ narratives in our own field of rural sociology has shown.
For a rural sociology celebrating its 75th anniversary, Together is a timely work. It raises questions about the world, this world, and the relentless economic and political foundations on which its rests. Importantly, this book also opens up an imaginative of possible futures in the now that develop the principles from which they are made in our daily living and social struggles. Thus, Ece Temelkuran has taken her writer’s responsibility seriously, presenting us with carefully selected words that have something important to say, also for the research agendas of our own discipline.
Ece Temelkuran, 2021. Together, 10 choices for a better now, 4th Estate: London, ISBN 978-0-00-839380-9, 199 pages.
The 75th anniversary of the Rural Sociology Group also marks another milestone: 100 completed and successfully defended PhD theses. The first PhD graduate was Jan Doorenbos, who successfully defended his PhD thesis entitled ‘Opheusden als boomteeltcentrum‘ (Opheusden as tree-growing centre) on 14 June 1950. His PhD study was supervised by Prof. E.W. Hofstee. The 100th PhD graduate was Lucie Sovová, who successfully defended her PhD thesis entitled ‘Grow, share or buy? Understanding the diverse economies of urban gardeners‘ on 13 October 2020. Her PhD study was supervised by Dr. Esther Veen, Dr. Petr Jehlicka and myself. Below the covers of the 1st and 100th PhD thesis.
In this blog about 100 PhD graduates in 75 years Rural Sociology at Wageningen University, I want to present and reflect on some trends related to these 100 PhD graduates. In another forthcoming blog I will present and reflect on some trends related to the content and focus of these 100 PhD theses.
Trend 1: from less than 1 to close to 4 PhD graduates per year
The 100 PhD theses that were completed in the last 75 years are not evenly distributed over the years, as the figure below shows. In the first 50 years 23 PhD theses were completed, meaning that the average number of PhD graduations was below 1 per year (with no PhD graduations at all in the years 1966-1970 and 1986-1990). This increased to approximately 2 per year in the 1996-2005 period and to almost 4 per year in the last 15 years. There are multiple reasons for this. First, until the 1980s having a PhD degree was not that important for an academic career as it is now. When I did my Masters in Wageningen in the late 1980s and early 1990s a large part of the courses I took were taught by assistant, associate and even full professors without a PhD degree. Nowadays, having a PhD degree is a prerequisite for an academic career. Second, in the early 1980s the Dutch government introduced the so-called ‘Two-phase structure’ for university education, with the second phase referring to a 4 year PhD program. The ambition was that 20% of the MSc graduates would continue with a PhD, and as a result universities created more PhD positions (which were then called assistant-in-training or researcher-in-training positions). Alongside, tenured staff without a PhD degree was also encouraged to write a PhD thesis. While these two reasons may explain the increase from the early 1990s onwards, they do not explain the relative high numbers in the last 15 years, with an average of 3 to 4 PhD graduations per year. These figures are a result of: a) the growth of externally funded research projects in which (part of) the research was/is carried out by PhD students; b) the acquisition of specific PhD programs with multiple PhD projects (NWO-WOTRO, INREF, and EU Marie Curie Training Networks); c) the internationalization of our PhD community (more about this below) with a growing number of PhD scholarships funded by NUFFIC and national governments in Asia (mainly China) and Latin-America. In addition, there has been an internal push for more PhD students due to PhD supervision criteria for RSO staff in Tenure Track. And last but not least, the PhD graduation allowance that we get from the national government (currently approximately € 60,000 per PhD graduate) also implies that there is a financial incentive to have a steady and preferable high inflow of PhD students and outflow of PhD graduates.
Trend 2: The average age at which a PhD degree is obtained remains the same (but becomes more diverse)
The average age at which a PhD degree is obtained has remained fairly stable over the past 75 years (just below 40 in 1950 and just above 40 in 2020), but has become more diverse in recent decades (ranging from 27 to 76 years). When making this overview I had actually expected that the average age at PhD graduation would have shown a downward trend as I assumed that the role of the PhD thesis had changed from someone’s life’s work (a middle- to end-career achievement) to a first stepping stone (an early-career achievement) in an academic career. The latter certainly holds true for a large group that obtained their PhD degree at the age of 35 or younger. However, among the PhD graduates of the last 20 years, the PhD degree has also been an important mid-career stepping stone. Many, in particular international, PhD graduates, who got their PhD degree at the age of 40 to 50, have moved up to senior academic or management positions. And throughout the years we’ve had PhD candidates that embarked on their PhD study more towards the end of their career or even after retirement (with two obtaining their PhD degree at the age of 76). For this relatively small group the PhD thesis has remained a life’s work.
Trend 3: From men only to more gender balance
One aspect that has really changed over the past 75 years is the male/female ratio of PhD graduates. In the past 75 years we’ve had twice as many male graduates as female graduates, as the figure below shows.
However, this 2:1 male-female ratio has not been like that over the past 75 years. In the first 55 years the vast majority of PhD graduates were men (32 men versus 2 women), and this changed considerably in the last 20 years (34 men versus 32 women), as the figure below shows. It clearly reflects the changing male-female ratio of BSc and MSc students at Wageningen University (and most likely also at many other universities in and outside the Netherlands). And this also has had an impact on the gender balance within the current academic staff at the Rural Sociology Group.
Trend 4: From mainly Dutch to ‘all over the world’
Over the past 75 years the PhD community at the Rural Sociology Group has really become international. Although there were a few non-Dutch PhD graduates in the early years, in recent years PhD students come from all over the world: other European countries, Latin America, Africa and Asia (see figures below: Europe refers to all European countries excluding the Netherlands). A large number of the PhD projects of these international PhD students are projects jointly supervised with staff members of the Sociology of Development and Change group, which traditionally has a strong network in Latin America and Africa. The former chair of Rural Sociology, Jan Douwe van der Ploeg, also has a large international network, in particular in Italy, several Latin American countries and China, and this has clearly contributed to the inflow of PhD students from these parts of the world. The aforementioned growing importance of external research funding and international PhD scholarships has also contributed to the internationalization of our PhD community. I also assumed that the international focus and status of Wageningen University, with all its MSc and part of its BSc programs taught in English, would have contributed to the internationalization of our PhD community. However, hardly any of our international PhD students has an MSc degree from Wageningen University.
In addition to looking at the countries/regions where our PhD graduates come from, I have also made a figure of where they are currently residing/working or where they were residing when they retired. This basically shows that the vast majority of PhD graduates is residing/working in the country/region where they originate from. Some have moved to other countries and a few of the international PhD graduates have stayed in the Netherlands.
Trend 5: From government official to academic/researcher
A last topic related to 100 Rural Sociology PhD graduates I want to present is their current or last (in case of retirement) sector of employment. Is a PhD degree really a stepping stone for an academic or research career or does it result in careers in a variety of sectors? This has been summarized in the figure below, which shows that many of the PhD graduates in the early years continued their career in government. To be fair, many of those PhD graduates actually had a government job and were given the time and space to do their PhD research while keeping their job as government official and continued as a government official after obtaining their PhD degree. Since the 1990s the PhD degree seems to have been favorable for a career in academia/higher education or at a research institute. Many of our international PhD graduates now have tenured positions at foreign universities as assistant, associate or full professor or as senior scientist or senior manager at a research institute. Some are self-employed as advisors/consultants and a few ended up working for a NGO or in the private sector (in or related to agriculture or elsewhere). But as the primary aim of our PhD program is to train PhD students to become independent researchers/academics, it is great to see that so many do indeed succeed in building a career in (academic) research (and higher education).