The SUSPLACE Special Feature ‘Exploring the transformative capacity of place-shaping practices‘ is published open access in Sustainability Sciences. It comprises nine articles: eight original research articles and an Introduction article by Lummina Horlings, Dirk Roep, Erik Mathijs and Terry Marsden. From the introduction:
The eight papers in this Special Feature result from the EU funded SUSPLACE collaborative programme that aimed to explore the transformative capacity of sustainable place-shaping practices, and if and how these practices can support a sustainable, place-based development. The programme encompassed 15 research projects investigating a wide range of place-shaping practices embedded in specific settings. From a common framework on sustainable place-shaping, each research project has developed its own theoretical and methodological approach. This editorial explains the overall approach to sustainable place-based development and more specifically the three analytical dimensions of transformative practices, that together propel sustainable place-shaping: re-appreciation, re-grounding and re-positioning. After an overview of the eight articles, the contribution to sustainability sciences is discussed. The research programme has provided insight into the transformative agency of practitioners and policymakers engaged in shaping sustainable places, as well as the transformative role of researchers.
This collection reviews key recent research on developing urban and peri-urban agriculture. The first part of the book discusses ways of supporting urban agriculture, from policy and planning to building social networks for local food supply chains. The chapters in the second part of the book survey developments in key technologies for urban agriculture, including rooftop systems and vertical farming. The book also assesses challenges and improvements in irrigation, waste management, composting/soil nutrition and pest management. The final group of chapters are case studies on urban farming of particular commodities, including horticultural produce, livestock, and forestry.
The book targets a varied audience: academic researchers in agricultural science, urban planning and environmental science specialising in urban agriculture; urban planners and policy makers in local government; national government and other bodies promoting urban agriculture.
Last year Inez responded to a RSO thesis advert to join a research team exploring the social economy of food and nature in Gelderland in connection with several science shop projects coordinated by Jan Hassink. Inez completed her research at de Ommuurde Tuin in Renkum, and took the opportunity to further explore visual and creative methods, documenting her results in an illustrated ethnography that was shared with stakeholders at our most recent network gathering Nijmegen. Thanks for being part of our research team Inez !
Inez Dekker, MSc student Sociology of Development (MID) Wageningen University
The full thesis can be downloaded from the WUR-Library by clicking on the hyperlink
Summary : In the last decades a growing number of alternative food and care initiatives emerged in North-America and Europe. Due to uncertain situations within current neoliberal economic systems such as the recent recession, ongoing outsourcing and environmental depletion, and alienation from production (Morgan and Kuch, 2015), these initiatives offer an alternative to an existing neoliberal model. Moreover, they inspire to create a more diverse pallet of economies alongside dominant economic and social systems. Important to mark here is that their decisions and actions are not merely led by dominant economic models, but intentionally done to create worlds that are environmentally and socially just (Gibson-Graham et al., 2013). Often these initiatives fit in an alternative economic framework where a diverse, interdependent, rich and prolific disarray of ‘good life’ are central for their economies. One of such frameworks is the diverse economic research framework based on the work of Gibson-Graham (2008) where the economy is one based on a myriad of human and non-human social relationships that go beyond capitalist economic models. While there seems to be an emerging interest for practices within alternative economic frameworks, such as in community supported agriculture (CSA) or care farms, there is an absence of how human and non-human relationships create values that form an (diverse) economy. Moreover, in conventional economic thinking, practices occurring outside current economic system remain often unrecognized and unseen, though, these are essential for an economy to exist. Therefore, I aim to strengthen a network of diverse economic initiatives focus on initiatives located in the Dutch province Gelderland. To do this, I created a visual illustration that highlights the diverse practices and human and non-human relationships in the organic horticulture business located in Gelderland called ‘De Ommuurde Tuin’. I add to the scholarship of diverse economies by describing and showing the processes that produce a diversity of values in De Ommuurde Tuin’s daily economic practices. These processes are not only led by relationships among humans but include human and non-human relationships as well. To do this, I not only use a written form, but foremost I used visual and sensory research methods that highlights relationships between humans-humans and humansnonhumans. By putting forward the senses, the visual and emotional, this research concerns the processes in daily economic practices through a study of an economy that is lived and experienced. Moreover, I make alternative and diverse frameworks of economy/is more visible for a wider public through presenting my outcomes in a visual manner in booklet form. This approach tries to display and recognize economic alternatives, which helps to connect and build a coherent and powerful social movement for another economy (Miller, 2008; Gibson-Graham, 2008; Gibson-Graham and Miller, 2015)
In the face of urgent environmental and societal challenges, how do we move towards inclusive futures? What is the role of people in places? And what can be our role as (social) scientists?
In this course, we explore inclusive place-based approaches to development. We analyse how change happens from below and how people take matters in their own hands, shaping the places they live in according to their own needs and values. A relational perspective allows us to see the interdependence between the local and the global, the urban and the rural and the individual and the collective.
Besides engaging with key theories and analysing topical cases, we reflect upon our own role as (social) scientists and explore the tools and methodologies we need in place-based research, specifically focusing on participatory and creative methods.
This advanced MSc course is relevant for all students (including PhD candidates) with an interest in inclusive development, that seek theoretical as well as methodological guidance. The course can help students prepare an MSc thesis proposal and is supported by lecturers from all chair groups involved in the Centre for Space, Place and Society (RSO, SDC, HSO and GEO)
Carlijn de Kok, student International Development Studies, wrote her MSc thesis on young people studying cooking, baking or food studies and their engagement with sustainable food. I ask her to share some of her findings.
Why did you choose this topic?
“The literature tends to argue that it is mainly highly educated people who buy sustainable food. It remains unclear, however, to what extent people with a practical education are interested in sustainable food (as well) and if and to what extent they consume sustainable food. Following Karl Marx and his thoughts about the alienation of labour, it can be assumed that people who are engaged with food in their daily lives are more likely to be critical regarding food – and thus to consume sustainably. This is why I decided to focus on people studying cooking, baking or food studies: I expected that their engagement with food in general would lead to more interest in sustainable food.”
What was your theoretical starting point?
“Studies on consumption often use rationalist approaches whereby the individual is taken as a starting point to understand consumption. However, we also know that there is a difference between caring for the environment and changing consumption: this is explained by the ‘attitude-behaviour gap’. This is why I wanted to take a more contextual approach, using Social Practice Theory. This theory puts everyday social practices at the centre of analysis, and considers consumption in terms of its practical, contextual and everyday nature, leaving room for both agency and structure.”
So what practices did you study?
“I defined the general practice of food consumption as a range of sub-practices, including acquisition practices (buying and growing food) and use(r) practices (food preparation-, eating-, and disposal practices), following the work of Sargant (2014). I also made a distinction between how respondents view sustainable food (their cognitive engagement), what they are doing in practice (their practical engagement), and the underlying motivations and reasons for participating in these practices (I called this the narrative behind their engagement).”
Ok, that sounds interesting. But how did you study this?
“In order to understand students’ cognitive engagement with sustainable food and the narrative behind their engagement, I used interviews, a focus group and questionnaires. I interviewed fifteen students following a practical education: five bakery students, five cooking students and five students of food studies. Fifteen cooking students participated in the focus group, and seventy-five students filled out the questionnaire. In order to better understand people’s actual engagement with sustainable food I complemented these methods with food diaries: six of the students interviewed recorded for one to three days what they bought and consumed, where they bought that, and whether there were any sustainability labels on those products.”
And? What did you find?
“There were a few interesting findings. First of all, my respondents are in fact rather knowledgeable about sustainability, the issues in the food system and sustainable food, and they see urgency in acting sustainably. Especially animal welfare, environmental friendliness, a fair price for farmers and naturalness are considered important. All respondents participate in at least some sustainable forms of food consumption. Second, part of the respondents is rather interested in and knowledgeable about sustainable food. This group often performs sustainable food acquisition practices, mostly out of sustainability motivations (for respondents who only occasionally buy sustainable produce, sustainability is less often a motivation). Students of food studies are most often interested in sustainability, followed by the cooking students – for whom sustainability mostly relates to quality.
Thirdly, the extent to which respondents perform food consumption practices sustainably differs per locale. In general, respondents more often act sustainably when they are grocery shopping. They much less do so while eating out, on-the-go or at school or work. In these places sustainable food is less accessible and available, and students feel that their choices have less impact. Finally, I found that respondents’ cognitive and practical engagement with sustainable food does not always align. While some respondents stated to act more sustainably than their food diaries showed, in some cases it was the other way around. These students did not connect much to the concept of sustainability, but they were motivated by certain elements of sustainability such as animal welfare, and so they did make sustainable choices.”
Taking all of these findings into account, what is your main conclusion?
“Young adults who are following a practical educational programme related to food are to a certain extent interested and engaged in sustainable food. Sustainable food plays a role in their daily lives: respondents perform certain food consumption practices sustainably, mostly out of sustainability motivations. The extent to which respondents manage to do so, however, depends on the locale.”
Community fridges are refrigerators located in a public space, for example in a neighborhood or community centre. These refrigerators enable food to be shared within a community. In The Hague, community fridges are utilized primarily to share left-overs from restaurants with people facing hardship, with the goal of offering easy access to fresh, nutritious food. The initiative aims to simultaneously reduce poverty and food waste. To read more about the specific case in The Hague, visit their website: https://www.versenvrij.nl/
Interested in writing your master thesis about this initiative?
In cooperation with LUMC (Leiden University Medical Center – Campus The Hague), we are searching for a master student who wants to do a thesis research about community fridges in The Hague.
Topic 1: To explore user experiences and the role of these fridges in addressing food insecurity.
Topic 2: To explore how users manage risk and safety in the distribution of surplus food, and the care of community fridges.
We will encourage you to actively design your own research and hope you are eager to use various methods.
You are :
interested in the issues of food insecurity and food waste
willing to engage actively in designing a research about community fridges
willing to conduct research in The Hague (think about travel-costs)
experienced in doing qualitative research; e.g. participant observation, semi-structured interviews, the photo-voice method, focus groups
interested in mixed methods; combining qualitative with quantitative data (e.g. surveys or questionnaires)
a native Dutch speaker and willing to write your thesis in English
able to start this spring (possible to start immediately)
An exciting, funded thesis opportunity for students interested in regenerative food systems in New Zealand
Regenerative agriculture has gained momentum as increasing groups of farmers become preoccupied by ‘soil health’ and attentive to the practices required to augment and sustain soil biodiversity. Regenerative agriculture builds on the principles of circular farming, enhances biodiversity as ‘nature-inclusive’ farming, mitigates climate change, adopts ‘a true costs’ approach towards the impact of (diverse modes) of food provisioning, and includes more sustainable, inclusive business models. It has been identified as a major solution for carbon sequestration and a response to destructive environmental consequences of conventional or industrial agriculture on the planet and climate.
Farm Next Door, is an entrepreneurial initiative from the Taranaki region that applies precision tools to small-scale ‘hyper-localised, backyard’ urban, community supported farming/horticulture. Farm Next Door intend to nurture and facilitate the support structure for a new urban farming community. This network of local producers will farm regeneratively, earn income from their own land, and supply local, values-based produce for local consumption.
Exploring innovative and sustainable food systems, Like Farm Next Door requires attention to both production (regenerative agriculture) and consumption (the conscious and responsible consumer). What is required is a more holistic approach to how business is conducted – one that is inclusive of social good (Vishwanathan, Seth, Gau and Chaturvedi, 2009). A focus that is inclusive of consumption allows us to understand how more sustainable patterns of consumption might be co-created through an in-depth understanding of what, how and where we choose to onsume. Engaging with the forces required to alter consumption enables a greater transformative societal shift (Fuchs and Boll, 2018).
Research project and thesis opportunity
Within this context, Massey University and Wageningen University have set up a research project that allows for 2-3 Master thesis students to conduct their research on regenerative farming. Four broad research questions provide a framework for the overall project, with smaller subsets of emergent questions guiding the focus of each individual student thesis:
How can regenerative, circular, zero-waste systems be embedded within the Farm Next Door initiative and multiplied across all urban farming practitioners that will be part of this operation? What are the challenges, constraints and opportunities presented by such a holistic approach?
What innovative 21 st century economic and business models provide the basis for sustainable livelihoods and thriving communities? What lessons can be drawn from initiatives across various global contexts?
How are changing food production-consumption interfaces and the increasing demand for traceable, environmentally sustainable, nutritious foods promoting co-creation of common or public goods or positive externalities of innovative food systems? How are these forms of value demonstrated?
How can issues of equity, ethics and responsibility be integrated within agrifood transformations and changing land use practices to secure sustainable livelihoods and promote flourishing communities in Taranaki?
Research will entail immersion in the Taranaki region at different junctures by all the researchers, to enable the development of context-based understanding in addressing the broad research questions outlined above. It will also enable the practical action research derived from the series of targeted inquiries identified by Farm Next Door listed below:
To identify the emerging decentralised small scale organic farm movement in Taranaki – what? when? where? how?
To explore how precision horticultural practices and the latest AgTech solutions can be adapted and applied to the emerging decentralised small scale organic farm movement in Taranaki
Understand producer and consumer dynamics – motivations to engage and co-create a new way of producing and consuming food and how behavioural change in ethical purchasing behaviour is encouraged to a wider demographic than the current “local ethical consumer”
In consultation with their identified thesis supervisor(s), students will select one of the 4 broad questions listed above for their thesis topic and develop subsets of smaller, more focused research questions to guide their field work in Taranaki. Alongside this more academically-oriented focus, they will apply appropriate methodological approaches to integrate key action research components based on the targeted areas of inquiry developed by Farm Next Door. This dual aspect to the research undertaken in this project will provide academic rigour whilst retaining direct and practical relevance to the Farm Next Door initiative and its wider purview in Taranaki.
Expected start of the thesis: between January/February 2020.
Expected fieldwork period: April – July 2020 (4 months)
Requirements and procedure
Interested students can apply for this possibility by sending and email to Dirk Roep/Jessica de Koning/Mark Vicol to express their interest in this exciting opportunity. In order to be considered, students must meet the following criteria.
Students are enrolled at the Wageningen University
Students are preferably part of one of the following programmes:
MID programme, specialisation Sociology of Development
MOA programme, specialisation Sustainable Food Systems
Students preferably have completed RSO-31806 Sociology of Food and Place and/or RSO-30806 The Sociology of Farming and Rural Life
Students must be willing to work in a team led by Massey University
Students must be willing to stay in New Zealand for a period of 4 months
Students meet the criteria of entering New Zealand set by New Zealand immigration.
Final selection of candidates will be made by Dirk Roep, Jessica de Koning and/or Mark Vicol.
In return we offer
Relevant work experience in a research collaboration between Massey University and Wageningen University
Reimbursement of costs of travel, housing and transport (incl. return flight Netherlands-New Zealand).
Thesis Opportunities “Circular economy for agri-food systems”
The following thesis opportunities are co-supervised by Dr. Vivian Valencia (Farming Systems Ecology) and Dr. Oona Morrow (Rural Sociology Group)
The circular economy is a hot topic these days, with innovations coming from the grassroots, public, and private sector. But the governance of the circular economy is lagging behind, and we lack a systemic and regional view that bridges the gap between innovation and policy, rural and urban, and the social, economic, and environmental. Taking a systems view can help us to identify where policy interventions would make the most impact, by for example focusing on producers instead of consumer waste streams. We advertise three interlinked projects on the circular economy, that will feed into a multi-stage four year project.
Our approach to the circular economy that takes a food systems perspective to map all of the flows, benefits, and burdens of our current agri-food and waste system in the Amsterdam city-region, as well as the governance structures and policy levers that keep this system in place, and have the potential to change it. Importantly, our approach proposes to capture not only environmental and economic impacts, but also social impacts in the AMA city-region, including for example quality of life, social inclusion, food security, and transitions potential.
We take a geographic, sectoral, and sustainability perspective on circularity, to ensure that not only are materials reused – but that they find their highestand bestuse in the local food economy. For example, surplus food is redistributed to people rather than bio-digesters, organic waste is composted or converted to animal feed rather being burned for home heating or converted to jet fuel. These re-generative loops are depicted in the diagram below by Feedback Global.
Furthermore, we take seriously the role of urban design in reproducing or disrupting our current agri-food-waste system through the (re)design of green space, logistics, waste, and waste water infrastructure. Approaching urban design and infrastructure as vital components of agri-food systems offers opportunities for crafting shorter and more regenerative loops at every stage in the agri-food system, including the “end of pipe” recovery of nutrients.
If you wish to pursue this as a thesis opportunity you will receive supervision in the development of a research proposal on the governance of the circular economy. The following topics are possible:
Mapping Circular Economy Innovations in the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area
We seek a motivated student to conduct a scoping study and stakeholder mapping of circular food innovations in the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area. We take a broad view of circularity, to include traditional and emerging innovations, and social, economic, and environmental impacts.
2. Governing the Circular Economy
We week a motivated student to conduct a scoping study, media analysis, and literature review on the governance of circular urban and regional governance for the circular economy practices that are being tested and developed in city-regions across the globe, while focusing in the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area. We seek to learn from inspiring examples, best practices, as well as failures.
3. Methods for Visioning the Circular Economy in Place
You will research visioning and futuring methods that are well suited for stimulating creative out of the box thinking on the governance of the circular economy, develop a workshop design, and test your methods. There are already many existing participatory methodologies for visioning the future and co-creating transformation pathways for the future. Which may work best when it comes to transitioning to a circular economy?
On Tuesday the 29th of October, Lucie Sovová, PhD student at the Rural Sociology Group, won an honourable distinction from the Storm-van der Chijs Fund. The objective of this fund is to encourage and support Wageningen University female PhD students to pursue their study and career in science.
The RSO chair group nominated Lucie, and soon found out that she was awarded the honourable distinction. As head of the jury Prof dr ir Arnold Bregt stated that Lucie “bridges urban gardening and alternative food networks. In her work on Central and Eastern Europe, she questions framing informal food economies as remnants of the socialist era. She shows how they are not necessarily “inferior” to, but merely coexisting and interacting with their market-based counterparts. Next to her academic work she is in many ways involved and contributing to NGOs in this field.”
The honourable distinction comes with 500 euros, which Lucie plans on spending by visiting a conference in Manchester.
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.
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
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