75th Anniversary: 26) History and Sociology

Chair excursion to the peat-area in Drenthe (beginning of the eighties). From left to right: Aart Snel (our secretary), Ad van der Woude, Willibrord Rutte, Jouke Wigboldus, Jaap Buis and Henk Roessingh. On his back with the Edelman-drill: Jan Bieleman. Next to him one of our students. The photo was taken by Anton Schuurman.

By Anton Schuurman, Rural and Environmental History

The fame of the chair group Rural History brought me in 1978 to Wageningen. The Wageningen history group was at that time different from all the others history groups in the Netherlands – it was doing social science history, history as a social science with the methods of the social sciences with as its most characteristic feature the use of quantitative methods and statistics. It is still the message of our group: ‘We apply comparative historical methods to better understand long-term patterns of interdependence between people, institutions and environments. Our empirical work builds on a combination of qualitative sources and large statistical datasets, which we construct from historical archives across the globe.’ – it reads on our internet page. Although nowadays part of the section Economics of the Social Sciences Group – perhaps partly due to the fact that the heirs of Hofstee seem to have lost interest in doing quantitative work – , the chair group owned its existence to the tenacity of the same Hofstee (as so many of the social sciences chairs in Wageningen do) who succeeded finally in 1956 to lure Slicher van Bath away from Groningen to Wageningen.

Hofstee was a history-orientated sociologist (well, social geographer), as was explained earlier in these blogs, who later named his own way of doing sociology: encompassing sociology (differentiële sociologie – see  blog 5. In blog 5 the English translation is differential sociology. I prefer encompassing sociology – a term from Charles Tilly (Tilly, 1984; Schuurman, 1996), which in my view better captures Hofstee’s intention, although I suspect that Hofstee himself saw the title as  a reference to La vocation actuelle de la sociologie. Vers la sociologie différentielle (1957) by Georges Gurvitch).

Hofstee’s work played a large role in our work at RHi– he was our favourite scape goat. As all the sociologist he thought that the world had only changed in the 19th century – the famous process of modernisation, urbanisation and industrialisation. Before that – it were the Middle Ages, people working since time immemorial by the sweat of one’s brow. How wrong he was, how wrong the sociologist are. Slicher revealed the process of proto-industrialisation in Overijssel in the eighteenth century; Roessingh, using Chayanov far before Jan Douwe rediscovered him, demonstrated how the farmers on the Veluwe adapted their farming practices in their search for security; Van der Woude showed that the nuclear family was the default family in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Holland, Bieleman revealed the many changes in agriculture in Drenthe instead of the eternal rye cultivation  (“eeuwige roggebouw”). I could go on. The sociologists made us feel pretty smart.

I have to confess that my attitude to Hofstee was a bit different. Of course, he was a sociologist and prejudice-ridden, but for my work on the material culture of the Dutch countryside I was inspired by his encompassing sociology. I admired and admire his three-volume book Differentiële sociologie. It can still be used, maybe especially by global sociologists. Hofstee was my hero next to Elias, Bourdieu, Benjamin and Giedeon. But I was also influenced by other Wageningen sociologists – most of all by Rien Munters who had written his book Rising and declining cultural goods (Stijgende en dalende cultuurgoederen) (Munters, 1977). He claimed that in a real open society goods would diffuse in every social direction – but, in fact, even in the famous open society of the seventies he found just one rising good: rolling one’s own tobacco. In the nineteenth century countryside I also found just one: the sewing machine.

Later Munters had an even larger influence on me by letting me join the Giddens-circle, where I read together with Gert Spaargaren, Peter Oosterveer, Jan van Tatenhove, Tuur Mol, Frans von Benda-Beckmann and many others, contemporary sociologists from Giddens to Baumann, Urry  and Elden-Vass. The historian I became, I became because of Wageningen and of the Wageningen sociology group.

PS When I may do a public appeal: Sociology was so much more than Hofstee. I would like to read stories about or from his staff -members – Nooij, Kooy, De Ru, Benvenutti, Van der Ban, Munters, Wichers and many others – who wrote sometimes books that did become classics and who taught and influenced generations of sociologists. I remember Piet Holleman who not only made all the maps for the sociology group, but also for us; Corry Rothuizen who was at the department sociology when Hofstee worked there, and who is still working for Environmental Policy; Henk van Espelo who made the cartophoot-map that is still to see in the Leeuwenborch – there certainly will be other person who could write about them.  I personally have less knowledge of the non-Western sociology group, but I would love to hear, e.g., a story on Rudy van Lier, direct colleague of Hofstee, as non-Western sociologist, but so different from him.

  • Munters, Q. J. (1977). Stijgende en dalende cultuurgoederen. De “open” samenleving ter discussie. Alphen aan den Rijn 1977 Samsom.
  • Schuurman, Anton. (1996). Mensen maken verschil. Sociale theorie, historische sociologie en geschiedenis. Tijdschrift voor Sociale Geschiedenis, 22(2), 168-205.
  • Tilly, Charles. (1984). Big structures, large processes, huge comparisons. New York 1984 Russell sage foundation.

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

Open letter of European scholars to (in English, French and Spanish):

  • Frans Timmermans, Executive Vice-President of the European Commission
  • Janusz Wojciechowski, European Commissioner for Agriculture,
  • Norbert Lins, President of COMAGRI of the European Parliament.

Re: ‘Farmers for the Future’

Wageningen, 10th of March 2021

 

Dear Sirs,

In 2020 the European Commission released ‘Farmers for the Future’ (EUR 30464 EN), a Science for Policy Report, prepared by the Joint Research Centre (JRC) of the European Commission. This policy report is intended to contribute to the further elucidation of the EU’s Farm to Fork Strategy which is a key element of the European Green Deal. It has, at its core, a description of 12 profiles that are attempt to categorize the likely diversity and range of professional farming styles in European agriculture in 2040. The report asks, and tries to respond to, the following question: “ Who will be the key players of the EU next generation agriculture, the farmers of the future?” Continue reading

75th Anniversary: 22) Vormende krachten, veranderende verhoudingen: reflecties op de studie van een veranderend platteland

“Noem je dissertatie nooit deel 1” schreef de Wageningse professor agrarische geschiedenis Pim Kooij (Kooij 1991: 9) in zijn inleiding tot het boek “Het Oldambt, deel 2: nieuwe visies op geschiedenis en actuele problemen”. Achteraf bezien was het wellicht niet eens zo’n heel slechte keuze van E.W. Hofstee om zijn proefschrift in 1937 “Het Oldambt: Vormende Krachten deel 1’ te noemen (Hofstee 1937). Zelf kwam de grand old man van de rurale sociologie er niet meer aan toe hier een deel 2 aan toe te voegen, oorspronkelijk beoogd als een integrerende en concluderende afsluiting van het voorafgaande deel. Maar zijn toevoeging ‘deel 1’ heeft anderen uiteindelijk de uitdaging doen aangaan om met een vervolg te komen. Al was het meer dan 50 jaar later, en niet zo zeer concluderend, maar reflecterend. Continue reading

75th Anniversary: 20) Boerengroep

Boerenprotest tegen melkprijs- ongedateerd, archief Boerengroep

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

75th Anniversary: 16) Meaningful Diversity: Origins of the Farming Style Concept

Part of the front cover of Hofstee’s inaugural lecture “On the causes of diversity in agricultural areas in the Netherlands” (1946)

E.W. Hofstee’s interest in the concrete, the lived, and the particular marked his inclination towards an “inductive” research methodology. He combined in-depth descriptions of social groups with a comparative approach (Hofstee 1938: 7-8). This grounded theoretical approach yielded the concept of farming styles in agricultural production. A farming style can be defined as shared normative and strategic ideas about how farming should be done (see also Blog 10). Hofstee’s concept of farming  style implied an important analytical inversion: one should not try to understand the practice of farming from the structural conditions to which the farmers responds but rather move to the center of our analysis the agency of farmers as creative actors. Hofstee thought that rural sociology should emancipate itself from structuralist and functionalist “adjustment sociology,” as the understanding of rural life in terms of an adaptation to “order” was not only narrow and incomplete but also wrong: it erased the agency of people in the creation of the world they inhabit (see also Blog 14). Continue reading

75th Anniversary: 15) Marquetalia: Tegen de stroom in, maar met de beweging mee

 

In 1979 verscheen het eerste nummer van Marquetalia, een tijdschrift over landbouw en politiek. Tot de oprichters van het tijdschrift behoorden Jan Douwe van der Ploeg, de latere hoogleraar en hoofd van de vakgroep Rurale Sociologie RSO, maar ook anderen die de rurale sociologie in de jaren tachtig en negentig weer op de kaart zetten, zoals de agrarische socioloog en voormalig RSO collega Jaap Frouws, die later een spraakmakende politiek-sociologische studie over mest en macht schreef (waarover later meer in een blog), en Jan Schakel, de latere onderwijscoördinator van RSO. Na zes nummers hield het tijdschrift op te bestaan. Het redaktiekollektief sprankelde nog van nieuwe ideeën, maar men woonde en werkte te ver van elkaar – verspreidt over drie continenten – en nieuwe carrières boden nieuwe netwerken en kansen. Een deel van het kollektief ging de kern vormen van RSO. Continue reading

75th Anniversary: 14) Is the Future of Rural Sociology Urban? Is the Veluwe City?

“Nationaal Park De Hoge Veluwe” by F.d.W. is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The functions and meaning attributed to the rural are manifold (Woods 2011: 1). Primarily, it operates as the intersection of “man and nature” (Ploeg 1997: 41), where for centuries most of our food, fiber, and fuel have been produced (Woods 2011: 1) but which now also provides the landscapes and scenery where visitors ‘slow-down’ or search for adventure and sensation (Buscher and Fletcher 2017) while comprising spaces of identification and belonging (Jongerden 2018). Further, the rural acquires meaning in relation to its complement: the urban. Often defined as opposites in terms of land use, population density, or social bonds, among others (Cloke 2006), these “constitute the complex unity of society viewed from a spatial angle” (Gilbert 1982: 609). This variety of functions and meanings has made the rural not only an epistemologically uncertain concept, but also a normative one.This normativity and uncertainty is part of the heritage of rural sociology. Continue reading

75th Anniversary: 13) Reflections: From Rural Sociology to a Sociology of Place?

Place has figured central in the work of the Rural Sociology Group. In a way this is, of course, already implicated by the adjective “rural” which adds a spatial identity to the sociology we do. Taking this identity as a social practice and the production of meaningful differences as points of departure (Hofstee 1946, Ploeg 1993, Wiskerke 2007), my own research gradually started to crystalize around the emergence of new spatial realities beyond ‘rural’  and ‘urban’.  At the background of this interest is the will to understand how people address inequality and uncertainty, and how they sustain themselves individually and collectively, socially and spatially. Continue reading

75th Anniversary: 12) Engaging in Agri-Environmental Cooperativism

The Netherlands witnessed in the 1990s the emergence of novel expressions of collective action among farmers. Building upon a rich tradition of agricultural cooperativism as well as outcomes of regional farming style research (see blog 10), these novel forms of collective action aimed initially especially for more farmer-friendly agri-environmental and nature policy measures. Continue reading

75th Anniversary: 11) Notes from the field: Agricultural Development in Rojava and Resistance of the Third Kind

Women’s cooperative farm in Rojava (2015)

Introduction

In one of our previous blogs we discussed Van der Ploeg’s concept resistance of the Third Kind (see Anniversary Blog 7). This was defined as a resistance which resides in working practices and farmers’ fields and is expressed in the way that cows are bred, how manure is made, products are delivered. In short, it is a resistance which intervenes in and reorganizes production, reproduction and markets (Van der Ploeg 2007). In this blog, the reconstruction of Kobanî is discussed a resistance of the third kind. Continue reading