75th Anniversary Rural Sociology – The After Movie

75th anniversary event

On 13 May 2022, we celebrated the 75th anniversary of the Rural Sociology Group of Wageningen University with a public event entitled “Rural Sociology: past, present and future”. The event took place in Akoesticum in Ede and was attended by approximately 130 people: current and former staff members, current and former MSc and PhD students, and current and former collaborators in (inter)national research projects. In addition to this event we wrote and edited a book entitled ‘On Meaningful Diversity: Past, present and future of Wageningen rural sociology’ and a group of (former) PhD students put together a PhD magazine. Both are open access publications.

The entire anniversary event was filmed and a 16 minute compilation video of the day can be found here:

Compilation video of the 75th anniversary event of the Rural Sociology Group

In addition all presentations and talks are available online in order of the program of the day:

  1. Opening by Arthur Mol (Rector Magnificus of Wageningen University)
  2. Keynote by Han Wiskerke: Meaningful diversity: Past, present and future of rural sociology
  3. Keynote by Haroon Akram-Lodhi: From peasant studies to critical agrarian studies
  4. Rural Talk Show:  Interactive session including invited guests and audience participation. The Talk Show was chaired by Matt Reed, with Jan Douwe van der Ploeg as a permanent table guest, and changing table guests around the following three themes:
    • Session 1– Societal engagement or academic distance; with Jessica Duncan, Aya Kimura, Han Wiskerke
    • Session 2 – Discussing the rural-urban dichotomy; with Henk Oostindie, Sally Shortall, Esther Veen
    • Session 3 – A continuing debate: agency and structure; with Bettina Bock, Bram Büscher, Mark Vicol
  5. Closure morning session by stand-up musician Bart Kiers
  6. Keynote by Hannah Wittman: Bridging rural and urban through agroecological networks: cultivating agrarian citizenship in a climate crisis
  7. Presentation of Research Agendas: Imagining the next 25 years of rural sociology. Interactive session around three research agendas, briefly pitched by RSO staff, followed by an open floor exchange of ideas and discussion:
    • Pitch 1– Agriculture – introduction Kees Jansen
    • Pitch 2 – Place – introduction Joost Jongerden
    • Pitch 3 – Food – introduction Jessica Duncan
  8. Closure afternoon session by stand-up musician Bart Kiers

75th Anniversary: 59) Rural Sociology’s PhD Magazine – a tribute to PhD research and education

2021 was a very special year for the Rural Sociology Group: as the chair group turned 75 years old, more than 100 people from all over the world have successfully completed their PhD with this group. PhDs have contributed to our understanding of the three main themes that characterize the research lines of RSO: agriculture, food, and place. They have developed a diverse range of theoretical frameworks. Former PhDs of RSO have continued their professional careers in farming, research, and project implementation in academia, the government, international organizations, and NGOs. Throughout the 75 years of RSO, we have seen a considerable increase of female and non-Dutch PhD candidates, and increasingly research sites outside of the Netherlands and Europe are studied. The trajectory of a PhD and funding structures have transformed as well.

Cover PhD Magazine 75 years Rural Sociology

To celebrate the 75th anniversary of RSO, we developed a RSO PhD magazine as a tribute to PhD research and education at RSO. In the magazine we share stories of a selection of former and current PhD candidates. You will find a tribute to Bruno Benvenuti, former PhD candidate and professor at RSO, written by Jan Douwe van der Ploeg. We trace the trajectory of several PhD alumni. These stories provide insight in their research topics as a PhD at RSO, the rewards and challenges they faced to complete their projects, the influence of their research on their current professional jobs and vice versa the influence of previous (work) experiences on their PhD research.

Other sections of the magazine highlight the life of PhDs that graduated and continued their academic career at RSO. For this, current staff wrote a letter to their “younger-selves” to reflect on the time when they were PhD candidates. Besides these retrospectives, the magazine also contains a section with stories from the field from current PhDs. In the end, the magazine offers a rich conversation between the chair holder of RSO, Han Wiskerke, Professor Bettina Bock, and Emeritus Professor Jan Douwe van der Ploeg. They reflect on their experience of supervising PhDs candidates, candidates who have inspired them, and the lessons they carry forward from their own PhD journey. In between these stories, the magazine documents a variety of interesting developments and trends among the PhD candidates and their research. Do you know when the first woman completed her PhD at RSO? Which nationality is represented most among candidates after the Dutch nationality?

This magazine was borne out of curiosity. Curiosity about former PhDs, their research and trajectories, and how PhD trajectories have changed over 75 years. The magazine was designed and edited by us as current and former PhD candidates. We are grateful to all the people who contributed to the magazine and made the production of this magazine possible. The process of creating this magazine and the end-result made us even more proud of the inspiring, warm chair group RSO is and was over the last 75 years. We want to invite you to get inspired as well, as you can now find the digital version of our magazine via de following link: https://edepot.wur.nl/568431

At the Rural Sociology 75th Anniversary celebration on May 13th 2022 you can get one of the beautiful hard copy versions. See the program of the event. You can register for this public event via the following link: https://widget.yourticketprovider.nl/?cid=1095970&productid=39345&dec=true#/tickets/39345/. Please register before the 30th of April 2022!

We wish you an enjoyable read!
Thirza Andriessen, Dawn Cheong, Lisette Nikol, Lucie Sovova, and Claudia Oviedo

75th Anniversary: 57) Research at the Rural Sociology Group:  Researching Mexican coffee policies resulting from a political regime change

Claudia Oviedo, PhD candidate at the Rural Sociology Group

Mexican coffee policies of recent decades have been highly criticised. Farmers, coffee organizations, academics, and development organizations have claimed that programmes implemented to promote coffee production in Mexico have been limited to assuring mere survival of farmers rather than promoting the necessary transformation of their livelihoods. One of the main criticisms of such programmes is that while the state provided plants, fertilizer, and sprayers through farmers’ organizations, due to clientelism many farmers did not receive the inputs they had been promised. Other criticisms include that such programmes have failed to involve effective commercialization strategies and have not provided adequate technical assistance, particularly with respect to disease management.

Collecting coffee beans – Photo by Erik García. 

In December of 2018, “leftist” President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) took office. Criticising previous neoliberal administrations’ lack of attention to rural areas, he promised his administration would benefit small farmers and that he would end corruption. To achieve this, his administration implemented the rural programme Sowing Life (Sembrando Vida) through the Ministry of Well-Being, providing approximately €250 monthly to farmers to plant deforested areas with fruit trees and annual crops using agroecological practices. The Ministry of Agriculture also launched the programme Production for Well-Being (Producción para el Bienestar), which also promotes sustainable coffee production, although with a much lower amount.

This PhD research analyses coffee policies implemented in 2019—he first year of AMLO´s administration, addressing the state’s conceptualization of farmers—essentially based on the size of their landholding—as well as its strategy for incorporating them principally into the organic market. Based on a Value Chain approach as well as Political Economy concepts, I found that those that farmers the state considers to be “small-scale” vary with respect to their level of control over the means of production. Furthermore, I conclude that selling to the organic market does not necessarily benefit all farmers and suggest the need to re-conceptualise the approach of public policy to “incorporating” coffee farmers into the market.

This study also addressed the political configuration of coffee programmes by unpacking the relationship among farmers, the state, and the coffee processing industry—namely Nestlé, as well as the interests of each of these actors and their strategies for obtaining their objectives. Two coffee trajectories were identified: one involving production of high-quality organic coffee and a high level of participation by the state and farmers´ organizations in policy development. The other trajectory is that of instant coffee, involving sale of lower-quality coffee to Nestlé. While several farmers’ organizations reject the latter trajectory, many farmers perceive benefits from cultivating coffee for this industry. Therefore, I urge policymakers and development agencies to allow for a variety of productive options rather than pre-determining a single production system.

Finally, this study addressed AMLO´s policy to reduce involvement of intermediaries by providing subsidies directly to farmers rather than through farmers´ organizations. Given that during previous administrations many representatives of these organizations retained a large part of the subsidies, many farmers welcomed this policy. However, its implementation has been characterised by operative problems and tensions between organizations and state personnel.  Some farmers´ organizations assured that not all such organizations are clientelistic; rather, they hold that they provide an essential mechanism for farmers to access more profitable marketing options. Meanwhile, the reactions of personnel from Sowing Life and Production for Well-Being contrasted significantly: as Sowing Life is extensively promoted by AMLO, and it does not stem from previous programmes, most personnel supported the reduction of intermediary policy. However, some staff of Production for Well-Being defended the work they had developed with farmers’ organisations and highly objected to the changes.

75th Anniversary: 56) Research at the Rural Sociology Group: Rethinking and Reimagining Urban Food Economies

By Oona Morrow

I believe that research can do more than describe and critique what already exists but also contribute to the co-creation of more just and sustainable futures. My research is concerned with grassroots sustainability innovations that endeavor to make urban food economies more collective, equitable, and shared. I approach these practices from the theoretical perspective of diverse economies, care, and the commons. These concerns have led me to examine a diverse range of topics at multiple urban scales ranging from everyday and gendered practices of food self-provisioning; to food sharing, food waste, and community composting; to community gardening and urban agriculture; to circular agri-food systems and urban food policies. What unites these topics is not simply a focus on food and the city, but my particular approach which is both critical and reparative, and sensitive to dynamics of creativity and power in grassroots sustainability innovations. I have had the joy of working with community food initiatives in Boston, New York, Berlin, and more recently Amsterdam.

But what does this actually look like, how do I go about it, and how did I arrive here ?

I began my PhD in geography with an interest in gender and diverse economies, but without a clearly defined research topic. In the U.S. a PhD takes a bit longer, and with three years of required course work I had time to explore a number of research topics and sub-disciplines before I began my field work. I knew that I wanted to conduct long term, participatory, and careful research in a place I felt connected to. I also knew what types of theories and concepts excited me – these tended to more feminist, post-structural, interested everyday life as a site of politics and possibility, and committed to social justice and transformation.

I found my conceptual home and community in feminist geography, and a particular strand of post-structural feminist economic geography being woven by J.K. Gibson-Graham and the community economies collective. Rather than viewing the economy as a monolithic structure that is imposed on us and driven by logics of growth, capitalism, and so on – this group of scholar-activists take an anti-essentialist approach to the multiple economies we make and remake each day in ethical negotiation with all of the (human and more-than-human) actors we are interdependent with. Using the metaphor of the economy as iceberg, they urge researchers, activist, and policy makers to look beyond the tip of the iceberg (e.g. gross domestic product, monetary exchanges, waged labor, capitalist enterprise), and appreciate the abundant and diverse activities happening below the water line that contribute to the well-being of people and planet. From this vantage familiar (but often static) concepts like class, the market, and enterprise are broken down into more open categories that facilitate the recognition and appreciation of economic diversity, local assets, and the too often hidden and undervalued labors of care and commoning.

Going into the field for me meant staying home in Somerville, Massachusetts (a once affordable inner suburb of Boston) and observing what was happening around me in terms of gender and diverse economies. It turned out that there was an incredible amount of non-market, cooperative, and commons based activities happening around food provisioning, in domestic and community spaces, and that gender (as well as race and class) played an important role in how these activities unfolded. I conducted ethnographic and action research with households and community food initiatives involved in self-provisioning, urban homesteading, and urban agriculture. I attended zoning meetings in Boston, where urban agriculture was being debated and reframed as an economic growth strategy, rather than a livelihood strategy. I sat in dozens of backyards, held chickens, admired the dancing of bees, shared meals, attended foraging, garden tours, and bee hive tours, and participated in countless workshops organized by the Urban Homesteaders League (a skill sharing community founded by the social practice artist Lisa Gross). I also organized and supported several community food initiatives who were trying to work out more collective and cooperative ways of food provisioning.  In collaboration with the League of Urban Canners I conducted participatory mapping to uncover the urban food commons, knocked on doors to glean backyard fruit for community food preservation, and harvest and processed tons of fruit into jam. In collaboration with the humans and microbes I fermented food in home and community settings. And I interviewed people about these experiences.

My interest in the convivial and shared aspect of food provisioning eventually brought me to Dublin Ireland, where I joined a team of researchers exploring the sustainability potential of urban food sharing. Inspired by the diverse economies framework, we developed a crowdsourced database and map to “make visible” the economic diversity of food sharing in 100 different cities. Through ethnographic research with community food initiatives in Berlin and New York City I dug deeper into my core concerns with diverse economies, care, and commoning. I became fascinated with the legal and regulatory frameworks that shape these practices, especially around notions of risk. I spoke with food safety officers and food sharers who cared deeply about these risks. I rescued, carried, distributed, gifted, shared, prepared, cooked, and consumed tons of “food waste”. I sat in communal gardens and kitchens and spoke with people. And I fell in love with compost, and community composting in particular.

At the Rural Sociology Group I have continued my research agenda on diverse economies and urban food commons, and developed a new research agenda on careful circularity which explores the potential for constructing circuits of care and solidarity rather than merely closing loops in the circular economy transition. I work on these topics together with students and in participatory research on grassroots circular food innovations in Amsterdam. I’m supported in this work by a web of scholars, activists, institutes, and importantly artists who help me to not only think but also to dream by prototyping social innovations and possible futures in food provisioning, commoning, circularity, and diverse economies.

Publications related to this work

  • Morrow, O., & Davies, A. (2021). Creating Careful Circularities: Community composting in New York City. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers.
  • Morrow, O. (2021). Ball jars, Bacteria, and Labor: CO-producing nature through cooperative enterprise. Food and Foodways, 1-17.
  • Morrow, O. (2021) Food Commons in M. Goodman, M. Kneafsey, L. Holloway, and D. Maye. Food Geographies. Bloomsbury
  • Morrow, O., & Parker, B. (2020). Care, Commoning and Collectivity: from grand domestic revolution to urban transformation. Urban Geography, 1-18.
  • Morrow, O. (2020). Gleaning: transactions at the nexus of food, commons and waste.  In Eds. K. Gibson and K. Dombroski.  Handbook of Diverse Economies.  Edward Elgar Publishing.
  • Hoffman, D., Poll, C., and Morrow, O (2019) Berlin’s Food Policy Council. RUAF UA Magazine 36: Food Policy Councils
  • Morrow, O. (2019) Community Self-Organizing and the Urban Food Commons in Berlin and New York.. Sustainability. Special issue “Community Self-Organisation, Sustainability, and Resilience in Food Systems.” Eds. M. Hasanov and M. Kneafsey
  • Morrow, O., & Martin, D. G. (2019). Unbundling Property in Boston’s Urban Food Commons. Urban Geography, 00(00), 1–21. https://doi.org/10.1080/02723638.2019.161581
  • Community Economies Collective, Morrow, O., St. Martin, K., Gabriel, N., Heras, A. (2019). Community Economies. pp. 56-61. in Eds. Antipode Editorial Collective. Keywords in Radical Geography: Antipode at 50. John Wiley and Sons. 
  • Morrow, O. (2019). Sharing Food and Risk in Berlin’s Urban Food Commons. Geoforum: Special Issue on Urban Food Sharing. Eds. A. Davies and D. Evans.
  • McKinnon, K., Dombroski, K., and Morrow, O. (2018) The Diverse Economy: Feminism, Capitalocentrism, and Postcapitalist Futures. In Eds. A. Roberts and J. Elias. Handbook of International Political Economy of Gender. Edward Elgar Publishers.
  • Davies, A.R., Edwards, M., Marovelli, B., Morrow, O., Rut, M., Weymes, M. (2017). Making Visible: Interrogating the performance of food sharing across 100 urban areas. Geoforum.
  • Parker, B. and Morrow, O. (2017) Urban Homesteading and Intensive Mothering: (Re) Gendering Care and Environmental Responsibility in Boston and Chicago. Gender, Place, and Culture.
  • Morrow, O. (2017) League of Urban Canners: Stewarding Urban Fruit Orchards. In Eds. Shareable. Sharing Cities: Activating the yrban commons. https://www.shareable.net/sharing-cities/
  • Morrow, O., Hawkins, R., Kern, L. (2015) Feminist Research in Online Spaces. Gender, Place, and Culture. 22(4): 526-43
  • Morrow, O., and Dombroski, K. (2015) Enacting a Post-Capitalist Politics through the sites and practices of life’s work. in eds. K. Strauss and K. Meehan. Precarious Worlds: New Geographies of Social Reproduction. Athens, Georgia: University of Georgia Press ‘geographies of justice and social transformation series’ pp. 82-96.

Artists, Activists &  Initiatives who have inspired this work

75th Anniversary: 55) Research at the Rural Sociology Group: The Spatial Dimension of Insurgent-Civilian Relations: Routinised Insurgent Space

Francis O’Connor

I was born in the 1980s, in the bucolic countryside of west Limerick where I  enjoyed an idyllic and happy childhood, completely distant from the conflict which wracked the north of Ireland during the so called “Troubles”. Nevertheless, as an admittedly very precocious child, through overheard snippets of adult conversations, impertinent questions, partially understood news headlines, the occasional drama of IRA arms dumps found in the local area and the half-earnest choruses of “Up the Ra”[1] that permeated the Irish social life of my childhood, I recognised the presence of an unspoken something. A something which did not interfere in any way with my childhood priorities of playing hurling and avoiding the hard jobs on our family farm, but as I grew up and read more about Irish politics and what had been happening on the island, it remained a something that engendered a curiosity in me. How was it possible that an armed Republican group, the Irish National Liberation Army carried out Ireland’s biggest ever robbery (21 million euro in today’s terms) in 1978, at the other side of my small parish? Within my childhood cycling radius, where in my experience literally nothing ever happened.  Even now the Mullaghareirk Mountains of my home, are a disorientating maze of narrow roads, high hedgerows, bog, woods and scrubland, in 1978 they would have been completely unknowable to an armed unit of Socialist Republicans from the North. Without local knowledge and assistance, would such an ambitious robbery have ever succeeded? Were the people of my childhood, someway complicit in supporting the violence, incessantly critiqued by the political mainstream in Ireland? Why would people like me and mine, safely ensconced in the rhythms our rural lives get unnecessarily involved in a violent campaign that resulted in hundreds and thousands of deaths? Was it ideology, a sense of obligation or guilt, hatred, fear, ignorance or mere happenstance? This unresolved, half-forgotten line of questioning lay dormant through my formative years.

Half-forgotten that is, until I began university in 2003, at the hysteric heights of the “War on Terror”, where terrorism and support for terrorism saturated all political debate and infiltrated our university discussions and seminars. This reawakened my latent interest on what support for political violence comprises. It led me to take every available course and seminar on civil wars and political violence, to do a Masters on Middle East politics and eventually brought me to Italy to a PhD on the relationship between the PKK and its supporters at the European University Institute in Florence. Under the guidance of Professor Donatella della Porta, one of the world’s leading social movement scholars, I found myself immersed in a vibrant conceptual and theoretical universe. One shaped by the ongoing debate centred on the ground-breaking Dynamics of Contention (2003) by Doug McAdam, Sydney Tarrow and Charles Tilly which argued for a broad approach to the study of a spectrum of contentious politics according to its constituent mechanisms. A spectrum which ranged from episodes such as riots to full blown insurgencies. 

This debate had stimulated a parallel blossoming of social movement research on violence, expanding beyond its foundational pillars of political opportunity structures, resource mobilization and framing to incorporate a relational focus emphasising the dynamic and contingent elements of violent social change. One which argued it was less the inherent characteristics of movements that determined their success or failures, but rather how movements interacted with political institutions, political adversaries and allies that provided a better explanation of political outcomes.  This new wave of research also addressed the criticism that social movement studies had been the empirical preserve of western liberal societies by also incorporating research on global violent and non-violent movements. And since then, I have found myself drawing from this rich theoretical spring of contentious politics and social movements to better understand why civilians support armed movements. An intellectual reservoir which has emboldened me to take a critical stance on much of the rationalist and structuralist approaches which have dominated the study of conflict. After a few twists and post-doctoral turns through Italy, Denmark and Germany, and extremely satisfying diversions to work and publish on lone actor radicalisation, anti-austerity protest, referendums and pro-independence movements, I arrived at the RSO with a new project, that addresses the spatial dynamics of armed groups’ interactions with their supportive constituencies.

The Spatial Dimension of Insurgent-Civilian Relations: Routinised Insurgent Space

In mid-2021, my book Understanding Insurgency: Popular Support for the PKK in Turkey (Cambridge University Press) based on the findings of my PhD research was published. During the many years it took to finally publish the book, and in light of the increasingly hostile research environment in Turkey, I decided to attempt developing a comparative research agenda, to see if the PKK’s determination to maintain the active support and approval of its constituency was an outlier and if other groups were similarly minded. Through a series of chance encounters, I came into contact with the M-19, an armed group which was active in Colombia from the 1970s until 1990.  I set about learning Spanish and in 2018 conducted fieldwork with former supporters and veteran members of the M-19 in Bogota.

 Reflecting upon the interviews I conducted with both the PKK and the M-19, it became clear that the relationship between the insurgents and supporters was not simply a relational dynamic, but one which took place in specific spaces. Encounters between insurgents and civilians were rarely random, they occurred in specific places at specific times. Armed M-19 operatives boarded buses packed with workers to engage in revolutionary propaganda before disembarking and disappearing into early morning rush hour. In the 1990s the PKK organised revolutionary picnics on the outskirts of Istanbul to recruit youngsters. The PKK transformed funerals from instances of private grief and loss, to occasions of revolutionary defiance. The M-19 actually built neighbourhoods for the rural displaced on the margins of Colombia’s rapidly expanding cities. Interviewed insurgents were explicit in how they strategically tailored their encounters to create favourable interactions which reflected positively on the movement. In certain neighbourhoods (or spaces in a conceptual sense) they promoted Kurdish or Colombian nationalism, in others they emphasised traditional socialist objectives. What do revolutionary courts in Kurdistan, the distribution of wellington boots and milk, the ritualised burying of the dead and the organisation of daily life in prison have in common? I argue that they are all forms of Routinised Insurgent Space (RIS).

RIS can be understood as the way insurgent movements deliberately engineer or appropriate existing social spaces to facilitate interactions with supportive constituencies. RIS contains functional and symbolic logics: it embeds armed groups in their immediate spatial environments allowing them access to local resources, but it is also a means of consolidating political legitimacy. From the perspective of the constituency, RIS renders interactions with armed actors safer and more predictable and can potentially lead to a form of joint habitus regarding political identity and behavioural norms. Although the types of RIS implemented are expressions of insurgent movements’ strategy, they are reciprocally constituted and shaped by local civilian agency which can resist or alter them.  My project focuses initially on four distinct forms of RIS: Insurgent Policing & Courts, Insurgent Service Provision, Insurgent Prison Mobilisation and Insurgent Funerals. A rigorous literature analysis and suggested that these four forms are not ideologically specific and recur across almost all types of insurgent mobilisation to greater or lesser extents.

As a comparative project, it of course strives to identify similarities and differences between the cases, but it also focuses on within-case variation. How do forms of RIS vary from urban to rural areas and even across wealthier and poorer neighbourhoods? In contrast to the flourishing rebel governance approach, it also attempts to track how these forms of incipient governance evolve over time rather than focusing on insurgent institutions once they are already established. It tracks efforts to create forms of RIS from their earliest incarnations, analysing why their success varies. In terms of data, the project will make use of interview data with former insurgents and their constituency. A key milestone in the project will be the hosting of a workshop at the RSO in September 2022 titled: The Margins of Insurgent Control: Spaces of Governance.  It is specifically designed to merge the relevant literatures from contentious politics and social movements, social geography anthropology and rebel governance with an explicit focus on the nature of the data used to study armed movements.

O’Connor, Francis. 2021. Understanding Insurgency: Popular Support for the PKK in Turkey. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

[1] “Up the Ra” is short for Up the IRA. In Irish, one would express support for somebody or something by shouting for example Gailimh Abú meaning “come on Galway”. In Hiberno-English, abú has been directly translated as up, leading to  the use of ”up something or other” as a common phrase. Up the Ra is a phrase which has to a certain extent escaped its original political connotations and has found its way into sports chants, drunken tomfoolery between non politicised groups of friends and into popular songs. However, its connotations are contextually dependent and can take on a greater or lesser air of menace according to who is in earshot.