Does the Arab region have an agrarian question?

In “Does the Arab region have an agrarian question?” Max Ajl argues that the Arab region is not part of broader discussions on the agrarian question and even though the political economy is having a small renaissance in Arab region studies, the leading agrarian publications – Journal of Peasant StudiesAgrarian SouthJournal of Agrarian ChangeAgriculture and Human Values, and Sociologia Ruralis publish lightly on the region.

“Discussion on food sovereignty and agro-ecology, and Anglophone rural sociology have blind spots when it comes to the Middle East/North African (Arab) region. This article explores them; outlines some initial concepts, discusses avenues for research, and notes some socio-political features of the region which make it distinct from others. It focuses on the necessity to include war and the national question to understand the regional agrarian question and advances and retreats in regional knowledge production. It proceeds by (1) establishing the relative absence of the region from the leading peasant studies journals; (2) synthesizing the region’s political economy and waves of knowledge production; (3) highlighting local traditions which speak to the questions of food sovereignty and agro-ecology; and (4) listing a series of theoretical, historical, and analytical avenues which remain to be addressed.”

Read the full article here: Does the Arab region have an agrarian question?: The Journal of Peasant Studies: Vol 0, No 0 (tandfonline.com)

A People’s Green New Deal

The idea of a Green New Deal, a set of proposal to address climate change and its effects, was launched into popular consciousness by US Congressperson Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in 2018. Evocative of the far-reaching ambitions of its namesake, it has become a watchword in the current era of global climate crisis. But what – and for whom – is the Green New Deal?

In this concise and urgent book, A People’s Green New Deal, RSO postdoc Max Ajl provides an overview of the various mainstream Green New Deals. Critically engaging with their proponents, ideological underpinnings and limitations, he goes on to sketch out a radical alternative: a ‘People’s Green New Deal’ committed to the decommodification of social reproduction, anti-capitalism, anti-imperialism and agro-ecology.

Ajl diagnoses the roots of the current socio-ecological crisis as emerging from a world-system dominated by the logics of capitalism and imperialism. Resolving this crisis, he argues, requires nothing less than an infrastructural and agricultural transformation in the Global North, and the industrial convergence between North and South. As the climate crisis deepens and the literature on the subject grows, A People’s Green New Deal contributes a distinctive perspective to the debate.

Order now: A People’s Green New Deal (plutobooks.com)

75th anniversary: 31) A Short History of Wageningen Sociology Book Series

Once upon a time, the Impact Factor was not sovereign in the field of rural sociology, and the inhabitants of the discipline had control over their own means of production. It was a time when the Wageningen sociologists published their “Bulletin”, followed by “Occasional Papers of the Departments of Sociology[i]” and then the “Wageningen Studies in Sociology[ii]”. These book series were an important means for the communication and dissemination of research findings.

The first series, the Bulletin book series, published 40 titles between 1955 and 1980, 36 of which appeared within the first 15 years. The “Occasional Papers” series published 23 titles between 1982 and 1988, followed by 14 titles in the “Wageningen Studies in Sociology” series between 1989 and 1994. This makes a total of 77 book publications over a period of 40 years, covering a range of topics in the field of agrarian and rural studies, planning, recreation studies, and demography. 

The purpose of these book series was to inform professionals and scholars about the research of the Wageningen sociologists. Over time, the audience changed from a Dutch to an English-speaking public. During the period of the first two series, most publications were in Dutch, with rather few in English. In the Bulletin series, just seven of the 40 books were published in English, with most of the English titles published towards the end of the series in the 1970s, while in the Occasional Papers series, five of 23 the books were in English; in the Wageningen Studies series, however, 10 of the 14 were English language publications.

Most of the books were single-authored publications: 30 out of 40 in the Bulletin series and 24 from 37 in the combined Occasional Papers and Wageningen Studies series. Almost all the books were written or edited by Wageningen sociologists. Most were staff publications, though the series included a few Ph.D. theses. The final publication of the three series comprised the proceedings of the 16th European Congress of Rural Sociology, which was held in Wageningen in the early days of August 1993 under the title “Agricultural Change, Rural Society, and the State.”

Although the book series ended in 1994, the Wageningen sociologists did not rest. Between 2007 and 2020, Wageningen rural sociologists published a total of 2,641 articles, book chapters, reports, and dissertations, predominantly with international scientific publishers. Among the most used English language journals were Sociologia Ruralis (which Wageningen sociologists co-founded), the Journal of Rural Studies and the Journal of Peasant Studies. Wageningen sociologists continued to publish in Dutch too, among others in the critical agrarian studies journal Spil (1978–2012) and Landbouwkundig Tijdschrift, the journal of the Royal Society for Agricultural Sciences. Ideas to (re-)establish again our own vehicle for scientific publications are occasionally discussed but not (yet) followed up.   

Books published in the Bulletin series

1.Sociologische aspecten van de landbouwvoorlichting

E.W. Hofstee, 1953

2.Boer en standsorganisatie, een regionaal-quantitatieve analyse

E. Abma 1955

3.De beoefening van de bloemsiterij en groenteteelt te Beesd

A.J. Wichers, 1956

4. Boer en coöperatie in Nederland, deel 1, de coöperatieve gezindheid 

E. Abma 1956

5. Enkele kenmerken en eigenschappen van de vooruitstrevende boeren I

A.W. van den Ban, 1956

6. Boeren en landbouwonderwijs, de landbouwkundige ontwikkelingen van de Nederlandse boeren

A.W. van den Ban, 1957

7. Onderzoek naar de activiteiten van de leden van de Gelderse Maatschappij van Landbouw

J.D. Dorgelo 1975

8. Verdwijnende dorpen op het Groninger Hogeland

N.A. Tonckens en E. Abma, 1957

9. Regionale verschillende in de toepassing van enkele landbouwmethoden

A.W. van den Ban, 1958

10. Enkele kenmerken en eigenschappen van de vooruitstrevende boeren II

A.W. van den Ban, 1958

11. De evaluatie van een voorlichtingsmethode in de Betuwe

A.J. Wichers 1958

12. . Boer en coöperatie in Nederland, deel 2, coöperatieve en niet coöperatieve boeren

E. Abma 1958

13. Voorkeuren voor voorlichting

A.J. Wichers 1959

14. Omvang van de agrarische beroepsbevolking in de 20ste eeuw

J.H.W. Lijfering

15. Het gardeniersprobleem in de kleibouwstreek van Friesland

S. van Veen en A.J. Wichers, 1959

16. Woning, dorp en dorpsgemeenschap in de Noordoostpolder

E. Abma en J.E. Montgomery, 1959

17. De leesbaarheid van landbouwbladen

W.H. Douma 1960

18. Fundamenteel sociologisch speurwerk in het kader van het landbouwwetenschappelijk onderzoek

E.W. Hofstee, 1960

19. De vormgeving van voorlichtingsdrukwerk

J.W. Schellekens en A.J. Wichers, 1960

20. Het gezinsleven op een verstedelijkend platteland

W.H. Douma, 1961

21. De echtscheiding in het agrarisch milieu

G.A. Kooy en J.H.H. Hasenack, 1961

22. De houding tegenover ruilverkaveling in het land van Heusden en Altena en de Tielerwaard-West 

J.P. Groot, F.C. Prillevitz, Th. J. Rinsma, G.A. Sparenburg, 1962

23. De vrije tuinbouwvestiging op nieuwe gronden in het Westland en De Kring

U. Geling en J.P. Groot

24. Boeren en toekomstbeeld, enkele beschouwingen naar aanleiding van een terreinverkenning in de Noordoostpolder

A.K. Constandse, 1964

25. De houding van de boeren in Bergeyk tegenover de landbouwvoorlichting

J.G.M. Helder, 1964

26. Economic knowledge and comprehension in a Netherlands farming community

H.H. Felstehausen, 1965

27. Wageningse eerstejaars studenten deel 1, enkele achtergronden van de studiekeuze

E. Abma, 1967

28. Enforced marriage in the Netherlands, a statistical analysis in order to test some hypotheses

G.A. Kooy and M. Keuls, 1968

29. Wageningse eerstejaars studenten deel 2, slagen of zakken voor het propedeutisch examen

E. Abma, 1968

30. De sociale gevolgen van de mechanisatie van de landbouw

A.J. Jansen, 1968

31. De sociale betekenis van het kamperen

A.P.C. Kersten, 1968

32. De leefbaarheid van de dorpen in de gemeente Borger

J.P. Groot, 1969

33. Het gezinsbeeld bijde Nederlandse politieke partijen

S.I, Zwart, 1969

34. Evaluatie van de tuinbouwvoorlichting in het Westland en De Kring

J. Visser, 1969

35. Sociaal-economische differentiatie in de landbouw

L.J.M. Weerdenburg, 1970

36. The guiding image and rural physical planning

J.P. Groot and D.B.W.M. van Dusseldorp, 1970

37. Extension and the forgotten farmer

J. Ascroft, N. Röling, J. Kariuki, F. Chege, 1973

38. Constructing tomorrow’s agriculture

A.J. Jansen, 1975

39. Original and derived creativity in scientific thinking

B. van Norren, 1976

40. De role of farmers’ organizations in two paddy farming areas in West-Malaysia

J.R.V Daana, 1980

Books published in the series Occasional Papers of the Departments of Sociology (1982-1988 ) and Wageningen Studies in Sociology (1989-1994). Editors: Anton Jansen, Berry Lekanne dit Deprez en Rien Munters.

1.Differentiële sociologie in kort bestek. Schets van de differentiële sociologie en haar functie in het concrete sociaal-wetenschappelijk onderzoek   

E. W. Hofstee. 1982, 54 biz., ing., (nr. I)

2.Migratie uit de steden. Een literatuurstudie   

Lily Harm. 1982, 82 biz., ing. (nr. 2)

3.Man and manihot. Vol. I: Case studies on cassava cultivators   

L. Box and F. Doorman. 1982, 185 biz., ing., (nr. 3)

4.Over vriendschap. Verslag van een hypothesenvormend sociologisch onderzoek naar een bijzondere betrekking tussen mensen   

G. A. Kooy. 1982, 130 biz., ing., (nr. 4)

5.Man and manihot. Vol. II: An annotated bibliography on cassava cultivation and processing among

Amerindians   

B. de la Rive Box-Lasocki. 1982, 170 biz., ing., (nr. 5)

6.Van huwelijk tot echtscheiding; een regenboog van ervaringen   

Iteke Weeda. 1983, 502 biz., ing. (nr. 6)

7.Rekreatiegedrag en ekonomische crisis   

Henk de Jong. 1983, 154 biz., ing. (nr. 7)

8.Planning voor vrijheid. Een historisch-sociologische studie van de overheidsinterventie in rekreatie en vrije tijd   

Theo Beckers. 1983, 456 biz., ing., (nr. 8)

9.Volksonderwijs in de Welingerigte Maatschappij. Een inhoudsanalyse van prijsverhandelingen van de Maatschappij tot Nut van ‘t Algemeen   

Dick van der Wouw en Jo Louvenberg. 1982, I 35 biz., ing., (nr. 9)

10.Over de welzijnstaal. Een onderzoek naar de psy-normering   

Ernst Meijer. 1983, 95 biz., ing., (nr. 10)

11.Paddy farmers, irrigation and agricultural services in Malaysia. A case study in the Kemubu Scheme

G. Kalshoven, J. R. V. Daane, L. J. Fredericks, F. van der Steen van Ommeren and A. van Tilburg. 1984,

205 pp., paperback, (nr. I I), ISBN 90-6754-055-2

12.De woongroep verlaten. Een verkennend sociologisch onderzoek naar uittreding uit woongroepen na conflicten   

Adri Bolt. 1984, 111 pp., paperback, (nr. 12), ISBN 90-6754-056-0

13.Huwelijkswelslagen in Nederland. Een vergelijking tussen 1967 en 1983   

G. A. Kooy. 1984, 164 pp., paperback, (nr. 13), ISBN 90-6754-057-9

14.Anthony Giddens. Een kennismaking met de structuratietheorie

Q. J. Munters, Ernst Meijer, Hans Mommaas, Hugo van der Poel, René Rosendal en Gert Spaargaren.

1985, 137 pp., paperback, (nr. 14), ISBN 90-6754-061-7

15.Handelen, Handelingscontext en Planning. Een theoretisch-sociologische verkenning

Fer Kleefmann. 1985, 371 pp., paperback, (nr. 15), ISBN 90-6754-062-5

16.Irrigation and social organization in West Malaysia

H. J. Hoogstraten. 1985, 148 pp., paperback, (nr. 16), ISBN 90-6754-067-6

17.The commoditization debate: labour process, strategy and social network

Norman Long, Jan Douwe van der Ploeg, Chris Curtin and Louk Box. 1986, 123 pp., paperback,

(nr. 17), ISBN 90-6754-087-0

18.Rood en Zwart: Bedrijfsstrategieën en kennismodellen in de Nederlandse melkveehouderij

Benjo Maso. 1986, 135 pp., paperback, (nr. 18), ISBN 90-6754-094-3

19.Benaderingen van organisaties vergeleken. Een kritische bespreking van theorievorming over de relatie tussen strategie en structuur van organisaties

Henk ten Holt. 1987, I 15 pp., paperback, (nr. 19), ISBN 90-6754-098-6

20.Landbouw, landbouwwetenschap en samenleving. Filosofische opstellen

H. Koningsveld, J. Mertens, S. Lijmbach en J. Schakel. 1987, 200 pp., paperback, (nr. 20), ISBN 90-6754-1 15-X

21.De verwetenschappelijking van de landbouwbeoefening

Jan Douwe van der Ploeg. 1987, 344 pp., paperback, (nr. 21), ISBN 90-6754-120-6

22.Automatisering in land- en tuinbouw. Een agrarisch-sociologische analyse

Jaap Frouws en Jan Douwe van der Ploeg. 1988, xvii +110 pp., paperback, (nr. 22), ISBN 90-6754-123-0

23.Illegale recreatie. Nederlandse radiopiraten en hun publiek

J. H. W. Lijfering. 1988, 128 pp., paperback, (nr. 23), ISBN 90-6754-128-1

24.De boer als buitenstaander? Sociologische studies over marginalisering en integratie

A. T. J. Nooij, R. E. van Broekhuizen, H. J. de Haan, Q. J. Munters en K. Verrips. 1989, vi + 118 pp., paperback, (nr. 24), ISBN 90-6754-134-6

25.Organization and participation in Southeast Asian irrigation systems

Geert Kaishoven, Nenita E. Tapay and Aart Schrevel. 1989, vii + 118 pp., paperback, (nr. 25), ISBN 90-6754-136-2

26.Marginalization misunderstood. Different patterns of farm development in the West of Ireland

Chris Leeuwis, 1989. xiv + 131 pp., paperback, (nr. 26), ISBN 90-6754-146-X

27.Encounters at the interface. A perspective on social discontinuities in rural development

Norman Long, editor. 1989. viii + 276 pp., paperback, (nr. 27), ISBN 90-6754-148-6

28.From common ignorance to shared knowledge. Knowledge networks in the Atlantic Zone of Costa Rica

Louk Box, editor. 1990. viii + 80 pp., paperback, (nr. 28), ISBN 90-6754-178-8

29.Geschriften over landbouw, structuur en technologie.

Bruno Benvenuti; ingeleid, bewerkt en vertaald door Jan Douwe van der Ploeg. 1991, v + 140 pp., paperback, (nr. 29), ISBN 90-6754-188-5

30.Sociologists in agricultural research. Findings of two research projects in the Dominican Republic and the Philippines

Louk Box and Dirk van Dusseldorp. 1992, viii + 66 pp., paperback (nr. 30), ISBN 90-6754-215-6

31.Adept at adapting. Contributions of sociology to agricultural research for small farmers in developing countries: the case of rice in the Dominican Republic

Frans Doorman. 1991, xxiii + 198 pp., paperback, (nr. 31), ISBN 90-6754-189-3

32.Toegepaste filosofie in praktijk.

Bart Gremmen and Susanne Lijmbach (red.). 1991, xii + 202 pp., paperback (nr. 32), ISBN 90-6754-201-6

33.Law as a resource in agrarian struggles.

F. von Benda-Beckmann and M. van der Velde, Editors. 1992, viii + 319 pp., paperback, (nr. 33), ISBN 90-6754-202-4.

34.Negotiating agricultural development. Entanglements of bureaucrats and rural producers in Western Mexico.

Alberto Arce. 1993. xiv + 187 pp., paperback, (nr. 34), ISBN 90-6754-283-0.

35.Milieubeleid onder dak? Beleidsvoeringsprocessen in het Nederlandse milieubeleid in de periode 1970-1990; nader uitgewerkt voor de Gelderse Vallei (PhD thesis).

Jan van Tatenhove. 1993, 3 16 pp., paperback, (nr. 35), ISBN 90-6754-306-3.

36.Of computers, myths and modelling. The social construction of diversity, knowledge information and communication technologies in Dutch horticulture and agricultural extension (PhD thesis).

Cees Leeuwis. 1993, xii + 468 pp., paperback, (nr. 36), ISBN 90-6754-308-X

37.Agricultural restructuring and rural change in Europe

David Symes and Anton J. Jansen (eds.),236pp. (nr. 37), ISBN 90-6754-372-1


[i] In Dutch “Mededelingen van de vakgroepen voor sociologie”.

[ii] In Dutch “Wageningen Sociologische Studies”.

Green Care practices and place-based sustainability transformations: a participatory action-oriented study in Finland – PhD-thesis by Angela Moriggi

June 1 2021, at 11.00 am (CET) Angela Moriggi will defend her PhD-thesis ‘Green Care practices and place-based sustainability transformations: A participatory action-oriented study in Finland‘. See the Abstract below. The full thesis can be downloaded from the WUR Library after the defense ceremony, or by clicking its DOI.

The ceremony will be live-streamed by Weblectures.wur.nl, but is recorded and can be viewed later as well. Angela Moriggi was appointed as research fellow at the EU funded MSCA ITN project SUSPLACE, employed by the Natural Resources Institute of Finland (LUKE) and PhD-candidate at the Rural Sociology Group of Wageningen University. Since April 2021 she holds a position as research fellow at the Department of Land, Environment, Agriculture, and Forestry (TESAF) of the University of Padova.

Continue reading

75th anniversary: 29) Watch or re-watch the recorded lectures in our RSO 75 Years Anniversary Seminar Series

We kicked-off our seminar series ‘Looking back, Looking Forward: Setting a future agenda for rural sociology’ as part of the 75th anniversary celebration of Rural Sociology. The seminars lead-up to our grand anniversary celebration on May 13, 2022. For this anniversary seminar series we have invited a range of highly interesting scholars active in diverse fields closely linked to rural sociology and engaging with research themes, questions, approaches, and concepts relevant for the research agenda of rural sociology. The seminars engage with current work of the speaker as well as the context of past debates and future issues for rural sociology. You can watch the past two seminars on our YouTube channel. See here the announcement for our next seminar (May 19) on migrant labour in agriculture. Webinar: Migrant labour in agriculture | Rural Sociology Wageningen University

Lecture 1: ‘Farming Inside Invisible Worlds: Political ontologies of modernist agriculture’:         

Hugh Campbell, University of Otago, New Zealand

Date: 3d February 2021

This talk examines the way in which an explicit focus on colonisation can open up new ways to understand the power of modernist farms. Using the example of colonisation in Aotearoa New Zealand, farms are revealed as agents of ontological politics: both being created by the colonisation of indigenous worlds in many parts of the globe, but then also becoming agents that enacted a new, ‘scientific’, pacified, and highly ontologically-bounded modernist world. The outcome is a very specific kind of highly-empowered modernist/capitalist farming, locked into ‘farming inside invisible worlds’. The story of farming in Aotearoa New Zealand from colonisation to the present day reveals both the enormous colonising powers of modernist/capitalist farming, but also the inevitable fractures, overflows and contests that signal its inevitable demise.

Lecture 2: ‘Towards a Gaian agriculture’

Anna Krzywoszynska, University of Sheffield, UK

Date: 28th April 2021

This talk is concerned with the role for agri environmental social sciences in understanding the new human condition called by some “the Anthropocene”, and what I increasingly think of as the challenge of living with Gaia How have we become so lost that our most fundamental relationship with the environment, food getting, has come to undermine both our futures and those of our environments? And what is needed to build a new pact between humans and living ecosystems? I have been exploring these questions specifically in relation to soil as an existentially and conceptually crucial matter In this paper, I examine modern farming as built on multiple alienations, and propose the conditions under which re connection and a building agricultures which work with Gaia may become possible.

Reply of the European Commission to the Open letter on the EU’s ‘Farmers for the Future’ Report and the Farm to Fork Strategy

On March 11, we published an open letter to Frans Timmermans, Executive Vice-President of the European Commission, Janusz Wojciechowski, European Commissioner for Agriculture, and Norbert Lins, President of COMAGRI of the European Parliament  about the ‘Farmers for the Future’ (EUR 30464 EN) policy report. Signed by many academics from different countries in Europe, the letter wrote: “[W]e observe that ‘Farmers for the Future’ critically fails to make use of, or build upon, Europe’s rich academic tradition of exploring and extrapolating the wide and richly-chequered heterogeneity of its agriculture. We also observe that the report does not offer evidence-based, scientific, support that can contribute to the process of European policy making. Instead, ‘Farmers for the Future’  contains and introduces dangerous biases into the discussions and debates.” See the post: Open letter on the EU’s ‘Farmers for the Future’ Report and the Farm to Fork Strategy | Rural Sociology Wageningen University

In his response to the letter, European Commissioner for Agriculture Janusz Wojciechowski writes “I welcome your comments, as this study precisely aims at triggering a debate about the future of EU farmers, in order to raise relevant policy questions”.

Read the letter here.

75th anniversary: 28) RSO Education: on the value of lectures

Still diving into the archives of Wageningen University Library, I found a pamphlet by Hofstee on the value of lectures written in 1965.  It includes a short argumentation about the value of live lectures and contrast sharply with the current shift to online education. This is the second blog on RSO Education.

In 1965, Hofstee published a pamphlet called Heeft College Lopen Zin? (Is it useful to attend lectures?) in which he discusses the value of old-fashioned lecturing. He starts with the following sentences:

 “Attending lectures is an issue of which its usefulness is doubted upon by students – judging from the many absentees. They are probably not alone in this. It is likely that, from time to time, many academic lecturers too get the feeling that their monologues and discussions with students are of limited value and that it might be wise to let students independently study the syllabus instead” (translated from Hofstee, 1965).

Hofstee wanted to demonstrate the value of lectures by executing a small research on students from the course Introduction to Social Sciences followed by 61 students. This course includes a complete syllabus for students to study. The exam will test their knowledge on the syllabus. In principle, students should thus be able to pass the exam by only studying the syllabus. Consequently, the lectures are to aid the study progress and are not vital to the assessment outcome. But by looking at the relationship between the lecture attendance and the grade, Hofstee concludes that attending lectures is likely to have a positive effect on the grade.

That was 1965. Fast forward to now.

At Wageningen University, the printed out thick syllabi are replaced by digital articles. A course is constructed out of various teaching methods including not only lectures but also group discussions, tutorials, excursion and so on. Academic lecturers, as Hofstee called them, deploy a range of teaching skills and learning styles to capture the attention of students. Each course is evaluated after completion and each year teachers are asked to modify their teaching as they see fit. Yearly innovation funds stimulate teachers to think about new forms of teaching, always seeking to improve the quality of teaching.

Yet, lectures remain an important ingredient in the courses and so are the issues with lecture attendance. Lecture attendance is not just a discussion at the Wageningen University but very much a wider phenomenon. In 2014, Harvard University even went as far as secretly photographing students in lecture halls to study the attendance[1]. Besides this highly criticised experiment, more research has been done on lecture attendance, its presumed benefits and the reasons for not attending (see for example Doggrell, 2020; Fernandez et al, 2008; Horton et al, 2012; Meehan and McCallig, 2019; Poirier, 2017). Interestingly, the academics writing on this issue are not unanimously in favour of Hofstee’s conclusions. On one hand, Horton et al (2012) conclude that the correlation between assessment outcome and lecture attendance is “surprisingly weak”. Lectures can even lead to students’ boredom and decreased motivation (Blouin at al, 2008; Short and Martin, 2011).

On the other hand, academics indicate that lectures have great value. The interpersonal relation between students and lecturer, a demonstrated interest of the lecturer in the subject and the critical dialogue are factors that can make any lecture an inspiration and lecturing transformative. A good lecture makes student think (Poirier, 2017). On top of that, we are now experiencing a period without live lectures. The current COVID-19 pandemic pushed academics towards digital education. The shift to online education made us aware of the value of lecturing, the teaching in front of a classroom, the social element, the chats in the hallway, or the student that lingers after class as she has a few questions left. After a year of online education, students complain about the lack of interaction, the high amounts of screen time and declining motivation. They miss the classroom and probably also miss the lectures. These very current insights can lead to a revival of the live lectures on campus and, as Hofstee states:

…reinforce the feeling of usefulness among lecturers and stimulate students to honour us with their presence.” (translated from Hofstee, 1965)

References

Doggrell, S. A. (2020). No apparent association between lecture attendance or accessing lecture recordings and academic outcomes in a medical laboratory science course. BMC medical education, 20(1), 1-12.

Fernandes, L., Maley, M., & Cruickshank, C. (2008). The impact of online lecture recordings on learning outcomes in pharmacology. J Int Assoc Med Sci Educ18(2), 62-70.

Hofstee, E. W. (1965). Heeft college-lopen zin?.

Horton, D. M., Wiederman, S. D., & Saint, D. A. (2012). Assessment outcome is weakly correlated with lecture attendance: influence of learning style and use of alternative materials. Advances in physiology education36(2), 108-115.

Meehan, M., & McCallig, J. (2019). Effects on learning of time spent by university students attending lectures and/or watching online videos. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning35(2), 283-293.

Poirier, T. I. (2017). Is lecturing obsolete? Advocating for high value transformative lecturing. American journal of pharmaceutical education81(5).


Foodscapes in times of uncertainty – blog 3

Food related initiatives that started during the COVID-19 pandemic. By Fenne Oppers and Thirza Andriessen

Due to the pandemic and its associated measures, a number of food needs are challenged. Access to sufficient food has become more difficult for certain groups in several ways; e.g. due to the risk of getting infected when going to a supermarket (especially for elderly people), because of stockpiling behavior which made it difficult for care workers to get sufficient products in supermarkets at the end of the day, and because of financial shortcomings due to income drops as a consequence of the economic impacts of the pandemic (CBS, n.d.). But also food related needs, such as the social aspect of eating together in elderly homes, have become restricted due to the pandemic. So, in several ways people are challenged to fulfil their food (related) needs. This has partly been reflected in an increased number of households experiencing food insecurity in the Netherlands since the corona pandemic. People who experience food insecurity are often supported by food banks. However, the food distribution by food banks has also been challenged due to consequences of the pandemic, for example by means of an increased number of clients, reduced food supplies, and a drop of volunteers.

In response to both these difficulties to fulfill food (related) needs and a challenged food aid system, several (bottom-up) initiatives originated in the beginning of COVID-19 to help people who struggle to get sufficient food on the table. But what exactly triggered the origin of these initiatives? What are their aims? How do they interact with recipients? And what do these initiatives show us about food (related) needs of citizens during this crisis?

To create a better understanding of food related initiatives that arose in times of COVID-19, I used Social Innovation Theory – a theory that looks at new solutions to social problems, with the benefits of these solutions shared beyond the confines of the innovators (Tracey & Stott, 2007). Social innovation is about an idea or initiative, driven and organized by citizens, that is different than the contemporary way to handle a social problem (Anheier, Krlev & Mildenberger, 2018; Cativelli & Rusciano, 2020; Moulaert et al, 2013), in this case food insecurity and other food (related) needs that arose during the corona pandemic. This made me formulate my research question as: What characterizes local food related initiatives that originated during the corona pandemic as social innovations?

In order to grasp innovative food related initiatives originated during the pandemic, I conducted both online research and interviews with initiators of several initiatives. The online research consisted of analyzing websites of initiatives, websites of newspapers and social media platforms, which enabled me to map out initiatives and to acquire a first understanding of the motives and way of working behind them. Semi-structured interviews with initiators helped me to acquire more detailed information about four initiatives.

This research has shown that food related initiatives in the Netherlands during the corona pandemic originated in response to new or increased food (related) needs. The initiatives studied in this research vary in the societal issue they mainly focus on, reflected by four categories:

  1. Some maintain a predominant focus on poverty relief – e.g. “give a meal for free to someone who does not have the money”;
  2. Others on reducing social isolation – e.g. “The idea that the outside world is still there for you and that you can call for help or for a listening ear makes you feel less alone.’’;
  3. Supporting safety – e.g. ‘’How can I help the older generation who can’t have young people do shopping for them, come into their house, you know, pick up things for them, give it to them. What can be like the most… the safest way for, to help them.’’;
  4. Or limiting food waste – e.g. ‘’The initiative is truly meant to help out producers and suppliers in the food service”.

While varying in their main focus, initiatives in this research often combine multiple aims. For example, an initiator of one initiative explained about his organization that it is intended to “give a meal for free to someone who does not have the money” – reflecting an aim for poverty relief on the short term – but also to use “a meal as a tool to come into contact with the target group that is hard to reach’’ – reflecting a focus on reducing social isolation.

Additionally, two recurring logics were noticed throughout their origin, aim and way of working: solidarity and charity. First, a logic of solidarity has been noticed in relation to aims as contributing to the common good, and ways of supporting social interaction and a sense of community. One initiator stated on the Instagram page of the initiative: “I believe in solidarity. In Amsterdam-Oost we take good care of each other.’’ Secondly, a logic of charity is reflected by origins of initiatives based on feelings of empathic concern responded by strong motivations to help vulnerable or disadvantaged people by means of a charitable gift. Accordingly, initiatives holding a charitable logic aim for offering direct relief on the short term.

This research has investigated the origin, aim and way of working of various food related initiatives that started in times of COVID-19, based on the perspectives of initiators. Yet, experiences of their recipients remain unknown. Further research could investigate these experiences and how these align with the aims behind the food related initiatives.

References

Anheier, H., Krlev G. & Mildenberger, G. (2018). Social Innovation: Comparative Perspectives. New York: Routledge. https://doi-org.ezproxy.library.wur.nl/10.4324/9781315158020

Cattivelli, V. & Rusciano, V. (2020). Social Innovation and Food Provisioning during Covid-19: The Case of Urban-Rural Initiatives in the Province of Napels. Sustainability (12-4444). https://doi.org/10.3390/su12114444

CBS. (n.d.). COVID-19 impact on labour and income. Retrieved from https://www.cbs.nl/engb/dossier/coronavirus-crisis-cbs-figures/covid-19-impact-on-labour-and-income

Moulaert, F., MacCallum, D. & Hillier, J. (2013). Social innovation: intuition, percept, concept, theory and practice. In Moulaert, F., MacCallum, D., Mehmood, A. & Hamdouch, A. The International Handbook on Social Innovation: Collective Action, Social Learning and Transdisciplinary Research (1st ed., pp. 13-24). Cheltenham, UK; Northampton, USA: Edward Elgar Publishing.

Tracey, P. & Stott, N. (2017). Social Innovation: A Window on Alternative Ways of Organizing and Innovating. Innovation, Organization & Management (19-1) 51-60.

75th Anniversary: 27) From farmers in the countryside to urban citizens keeping an apple tree

The blog series celebrating 75 years of Rural Sociology often discusses farming, professional food production or the countryside. Rural Sociology’s research interest is broader than that, however. Over the years attention for urban areas and their eaters – either or not involved in food production – has grown. Hence, staff members of our group have studied urban allotment gardening, urbanites sharing food and making yoghurt, and urban composting. In sum, the city has taken its place next to the countryside as an important research area, and our research is no longer limited to the professional food producer. 

My own research in Almere, conducted in 2019, serves as an illustration. With WUR-colleagues Jan Eelco Jansma, Hans Dagevos and Jan Willem van der Schans, I studied food prosumption in Almere. We defined a prosumer as someone who grows or collects (part of) his/her own food, for instance in a community garden, by growing it in the backyard or by wild foraging. Our goal was to understand the concept in theory and practice and to clarify who is involved in prosumption and what these activities entail. In order to do so we conducted a literature review, interviewed people involved in prosumption as well as experts, and sent out a questionnaire (n=835).

The concept of prosumption fits certain processes we witness in today’s society, including the motivation to take responsibility and to ‘do it yourself’, in order to be less dependent on larger companies. Although the word prosumption is hardly used in the literature, the phenomenon of citizens engaging in food production is studied and described, for instance with regards to the shifting and partly overlapping roles of producers and consumers in Alternative Food Networks.

We were surprised by the number of respondents who are involved in prosumption one way or the other. Two thirds of our questionnaire respondents grow basil in the window sill, harvest their own apples or pick blackberries in the woods. However, the scale in which they do so is only small: the acreage respondents use for prosumption activities is limited, and just a small part of people’s diets results from these activities. Hence, people are much less involved in time-consuming activities as community or allotment gardening than in small-scale activities like having a few plants in the backyard.

We found that motivations to be engaged in food production mainly relate to the fun of gardening. People enjoy being outside and to produce something that they can eat. A few people were motivated by a distrust in the supermarket, health, and sustainability, but these motivations were for most respondents subordinate to the pleasure of engaging in a hobby. We did find that people who are involved in prosumption more often take ethical considerations into account when shopping for groceries, but we couldn’t make any statements regarding causality. 

Despite the limited scale of food prosumption activities as found in our research, the conclusion that a large number of respondents participates at least to some degree in food production, shows that prosumption is something ‘normal’, suggesting that people may not be as far removed from food production as often thought. The next step is to better understand what needs to be done to interest people more for food and the food system, and to connect to their main motivations in order to change the food system to become more sustainable.

See our published paper here and the research report (in Dutch) here.

Why I support Alarm Day and the call for a 1.1 billion Euro structural investment in academic research and education

Today, Tuesday April 6 2021, is ‘Alarm Day’; a day on which the teaching and research staff, students, administrators and alumni of all 14 Dutch research universities will be congregating to call on the new government to structurally invest 1.1 billion euros in academic research and education. Since 2000 student numbers have doubled, while government funding per student has decreased by 25%. In addition research funding has not kept up with the growth in student numbers and increasingly has to be obtained via competitive research grant applications. Hence, there is a structural lack of time and financial means for high-quality research and high-quality teaching. As a result of underfunding, students no longer receive the education they deserve, while teaching and research staff are struggling to cope. So on Alarm Day we address this situation and propose to work towards a Normal Academic Standard. For more information, please check https://normaalacademischpeil.nl/ (or https://normaalacademischpeil.nl/english for the English version).

One of the activities the organizers of the Alarm Day ask us to undertake is to share our personal stories. That is what I will do in this blog, thereby also expressing my support for today’s Alarm Day and the call for a structural investment in university research and education.

Why I support Alarm Day and the call for a 1.1 billion Euro structural investment

I was appointed as Chair and Professor of Rural Sociology at Wageningen University in November 2004. Within our university system, being chair means that you are responsible for the financial situation of your chair group. Due to the way the funding of education has been organized at Wageningen University, our education income does largely keep up with growing student numbers. However, the downside is that there is hardly any funding for research. Annually our chair group gets approximately k€ 330 basic university funding (formally labelled as research funding), yet our costs for accommodation, materials, travel and overheads are equal to or exceed that, hence there is no funding for research. So to make sure that the annual operating result of my group is not negative, there are basically two options: we only teach (and make sure that the revenues from teaching plus basic funding cover the salary costs and other costs) or we obtain external funding for research (including PhD projects). We have continuously focused on the latter option (also because the first option de facto means that the key characteristic of academic education, i.e. the link between research and teaching, ceases to exist) and have been quite successful at that, BUT:

  • Over the years grant schemes have become increasingly competitive, and thus our success rate has gradually declined from approximately 50% 10-15 years ago to less than 25% at present (while the quality, based on evaluation scores, has only improved). This means that an increasing share of our research time is spent on writing proposals that do not get funded.
  • A lot of the grant writing has to be done in the evenings, weekends and holidays, simply because a) a 40 hour working week is not enough to do everything I need or am expected to do, and b) most deadlines for submitting proposals are just after the Christmas and summer holidays.
  • Due to the continuous financial pressure of obtaining external research funding I am almost permanently busy with grant writing and actually do not have enough time for the projects I did manage to get funded. And the time I have available is largely spent on project coordination, not on research;
  • A lot of our research projects are funded by the European Commission. In the EC’s framework programs (e.g. Horizon 2020, Horizon Europe) we see a gradual shift in funding focus from understanding problems and challenges to developing and implementing solutions, in other words from research to innovation and (societal) impact. Funding for curiosity driven and risky research has to come from personal grants (ERC, VENI/VIDI/VICI) or grants for training networks (e.g. Marie Curie Training Networks), and these schemes are even more competitive (with success rates between 2 and 10%).
  • Until recently I was ‘promotor’ (main supervisor) of >25 PhD projects and it is simply impossible to be sufficiently involved in all. Most of the supervision is done by daily supervisors (assistant and associate professors), who all do a great job at this, but for me PhD supervision was way more interesting when I only had a few PhD students. Yet, for financial reasons it is important that within our group we have 4 to 5 PhD graduations per year. Therefore we still have 25 to 30 PhD students, but as a few colleagues have ius promovendi (the right to award a PhD) I no longer have to be the promotor of all. So this helps to reduce my workload a bit, but doesn’t change the perverse incentive that a steady inflow and outflow of PhD students is important for financial reasons.

Will 1.1 billion Euro of structural funding solve all problems?

Unfortunately the answer is ‘no’. It will certainly help to reduce the reliance on external research funding and reduce work pressure if we can appoint more staff members who can carry out their teaching and research tasks and activities within their work week. But we also need to address a few other issues:

  • In addition to this structural investment a large share of the research funding that is now distributed via competitive grant schemes (NWO and EU for example) should go directly to academic staff: so less time wasted on proposals that do not get funded, less work pressure and more funded time for curiosity driven research;
  • A new recognition and reward system that once and for all gets rid of the publish or perish culture (or generally speaking the output performance culture) that has dominated academia in the last 25 years. Especially the current publication and PhD supervision criteria that our Tenure Trackers need to comply with only contribute to more publications and more PhD students to be supervised.
  • The time and energy consuming bureaucracy that we need to work in and which is largely based on institutionalized distrust, as if endless procedures, evaluation rubrics, assessment forms, and checks and balances will help us to become better lecturers and researchers.
  • Related to that is the time that we are spending on writing self-evaluation reports (and to that we add mid-term self-evaluation reports) for peer review committees (peer reviews of our BSc and MSc programs or of our research program). Don’t get me wrong, I really value getting feedback from peers if we can also honestly and openly share our struggles and challenges and then get constructive feedback on how to do things better. However what we are actually asked to do is to write marketing brochures to boast about our excellence, so that university management can show to the outside world how many ‘top programs’ and ‘world leading’ research units it has. And this also means that a negative evaluation (which is basically anything below ‘excellent’) will haunt you until the next peer review.

What have I decided to do to reduce my work pressure?

In addition to keep on addressing the structural causes of work pressure I have decided to do the following:

  • I will not write any project proposal until the current Horizon 2020 project I am coordinating is finished and I have the time and energy to write a new proposal;
  • I will no longer write research grants for financial reasons, but only because I want to (for curiosity reasons, because it allows me to hire PhD candidates and/or postdocs, because it enables me to collaborate with colleagues in other countries, et cetera).
  • I will not accept new PhD students until the number I am responsible has dropped below 10 and that will remain the maximum number.
  • I will publish less and review no more than two papers per paper I have submitted as (co-)author (and review no more than 3 research proposals per proposal I have submitted for review).

I realize that I am in a privileged position (permanent contract, no Tenure Track criteria to comply with and chair of a group that does really well in teaching and research) to take these decisions, but hopefully it is seen as leading by example.