Book Review: States of Dispossession

States of Dispossession is a book about protracted violence in the city and the rural surroundings of Mardin, a region in the southeast of Turkey, close to the international border with Syria. The book discusses various ways which people navigate death and injury, are haunted by memories of genocide, excavate and value its remains, and trade compassion for benefit. Biner discusses this violence and/as dispossession in daily lives settings, from the deprivation of life to the appropriation of homes, from the treasure hunting of valuable remains to dispossession through heritage making, and a range of debt creating practices, in which a variety of actors are involved, among these military, provincial governors, jinn, diggers, real estate developers, tribal leaders, and village guards. The result is a staggering picture about the ways in which property, memory and bodies are disowned in daily practices of nation-state building and neoliberal multiculturalism.

Read more here:

75th Anniversary: 38) Rereading Jaap Frouws’ Mest en macht (Manure and Power) in 2021

Kees Jansen

While writing the first sentences of this blog (7 July 2021), more than hundred tractors of angry farmers drive through the lawns of the campus of Wageningen University as one of many farmer protests against proposed Dutch government policies to reduce nitrogen emissions in agriculture. A farmer spokesman states that this university is an extension of the Ministry of Agriculture (LNV): Wageningen university is writing reports on request of the government against the interests of farmers and it is just suborned to defend environmentalist positions. Farmer protests on the campus grounds are something new as far as I know, but not farmer protests against restrictive environmental policies.

To understand the overall evolution of farmer protests around the nitrogen crisis, Jaap Frouws’ doctoral dissertation Mest en macht (Manure and Power) (1994) about the politics of the manure crisis in the Netherlands is highly relevant. Three reasons inspired me to write here about this academic work on agrarian corporatism written two and a half decades ago. First, when I was a master student Jaap Frouws provided an example that academics can be intellectually inspiring and accessible, kind, and humble at the same time. I consider him as an important figure in the 75 year history of the Rural Sociology group and his untimely death has been a great loss for Wageningen rural sociology. Second, Mest en macht provides a key entry point into the history of farmers’ representation in the conflict between agricultural and environmental demands and after three decades it has lost nothing of its urgency. Finally, Frouw’s pioneering work has become a point of reference for later researchers on manure narratives, such as Marian Stuiver’s PhD thesis (2008) and Janne Hemminki’s  recent master thesis (2021) on the current nitrogen crisis. But not everybody reads Dutch, so this blog hopes to draw the attention of English readers to Frouw’s classic Dutch text. One may not be able to read it but could become interested in reading some of Frouws’ articles derived from it.

The main theme in Mest en macht is the nature and decay of agrarian neo-corporatism represented by the Board of Agriculture (Landbouwschap) in the Netherlands. Founded in 1954, the Board of Agriculture―composed of representatives of the three major farmer unions and the labour union of agricultural workers―represented the interests of the whole agricultural sector as a public law organization. Interesting is how Frouws analyses how the state constructed the organization of farmer representation, rejecting to negotiate with an amalgam of different representative bodies and deciding to negotiate and collaborate with one composite organization only. Through this horizontal union model the farmer organizations as a whole became co-responsible for government policy. For several decades this structure would incorporate and reduce the autonomy of vertical product-based, specialized associations. Frouws analyses how this neo-corporatism was structured through a set of resources and rules that resulted in a strong cooperation between state and representative organizations. The representational monopoly was strengthened through providing early information about planned policies to the Board of Agriculture and giving it privileged influence. The strong involvement of farmer organizations via the Board of Agriculture provided legitimacy to government policies as the Board was functional in disciplining the farmer organizations’ constituencies.

Environmental crises, however, have increasingly affected this representational model. One key problem has been the excessive amount of manure produced by the livestock sector which could not all be incorporated into soils due to new environmental regulation. The key argument of Mest en macht is that the growing ‘manure problem’ created or deepened rifts in the so-called ‘Green Front’. It was increasingly difficult for corporatism to keep divergent interests under political control. For example,  views of farmer organizations in the North of the Netherlands clashed with those from the South. Farmers in the North had relatively more space to apply to the field their manure whereas the South had more manure surplus regions. Consequently, they had divergent views on the use of duties (to be paid to handle the manure surpluses) for, for example, transport subsidies. Such differences in interests led repeatedly to political confrontations and consequently to obstruction of policy consensus regarding the amplitude and pace of manure policies, the distribution of financial contributions to transporting and processing manure surpluses, and the regulations on buying and selling manure ‘quotas’. Within the state, policy formulation in this domain became less dominated by the Ministry of Agriculture which for a long time simply had organized and defended farmer demands through delegating policy formulation to the Board of Agriculture. Other voices speaking for environmental interests and, for example, members of parliament, gradually became less excluded from policy formulation around the manure crisis.

Frouws does not perceive this decay of agrarian neo-corporatism as a single monocausal unidirectional process. Instead, via an exhaustive empirical study of interview data, minutes of meetings, a survey of farmers’ perception of representation, and participant observation in meetings, Frouws describes the many twist and turns, and tensions, deadlocks and contradictions over time.  He reveals many examples of an effective lobby by livestock interest groups to soften or delay restrictive policies. Hence, while on the one hand the neo-corporatist policy-making community could not resolve the manure crisis and its political control of the issue lessened, farmer activism resulted on the other hand in delaying strategies and obstruction of policy formulation to address the manure crisis. Crucial questions regarding the restructuring the livestock sector were pushed aside in favour of maintaining the competitiveness and the export capacity of livestock production, thus precluding any discussion of reducing its volume.

Reading the empirical details of these confrontations, delays, and obstructions as presented by Frouws―with an emphasis on what happened in the 1980s―leaves the impression not of Manure and Power (Mest en macht) but of Manure and Powerlessness (Mest en onmacht). The issue of manure surplus was not resolved, the state was not able to envision proposals for restructuring of the livestock sector, and farmer representation fragmented. While Frouws did not predict anything about the future of the Board of Agriculture, the pivot of agrarian neo-corporatism in the Netherlands at that time, he rightly observed its decay. Not so long after his dissertation was published, the Board would be dissolved and the representation of farmer interests shifted to a more diffused model driven by specialized, product-based farmers’ associations.

Mest and macht is most important for what it offers in terms of empirical data, the analysis of neo-corporatism, and a political sociology of agriculture. The thesis centralizes the political sociology of representation whereby the technicalities of the manure problem are relegated to an appendix. Today with all the talk about assemblages or hybrids, nature/technology-society interaction would likely get a more pronounced treatment in a thesis. Instead, Mest en macht offers a middle range sociological theory about agrarian neo-corporatism and it is Frouws’ history of manure policies which provides us with interesting questions of how to look at the contemporary political upheaval which made farmers invading Wageningen University’s campus.

Similar dynamics as described by Frouws shape the current episode of the manure/N-emission crisis. The farmer protests in 2019, initiated by relatively small farmer activist groups, resulted in a momentary new Green Front, when the government negotiated about nitrogen emission policies with the Landbouw Collectief (the Agricultural Collective), a newly formed platform composed of many different farmer organizations. Like half a century ago, the government preferred to negotiate with just one representational body of farmers only. However, within months the participating organizations disagreed about the structure of the Landbouw Collectief and it felled apart as quickly as it had emerged. The strategies of ‘talking with the government to co-develop policies’ and ‘political activism to demand respect and farmer freedom’ turned out extremely difficult to combine. Of course, not everything is the same, as nowadays many farmers have incorporated ‘sustainability’ in their farm operations. But the challenges defined by Frouws of getting farmers involved in environmental regulation, “accepting responsibility for ‘general’ interests such as the protection of nature”, and accepting the need to discuss a restructuring of the livestock sector, remain as big and as relevant as 25 years ago. It might help to face these challenges if activists, policy makers, and politicians would read Frouws’ classic on farmer representation and environmental crisis.

Frouws, Jaap (1994). Mest en macht: Een politiek-sociologische studie naar belangenbehartiging en beleidsvorming inzake de mestproblematiek in Nederland vanaf 1970. Wageningen University (PhD Dissertation).

Hemminki, Janne (2021). The Nitrogen-crisis and social differentiations in the Dutch livestock sector. Wageningen University (unpublished MSc thesis).

Stuiver, Marian (2008). Regime change and storylines : a sociological analysis of manure practices in contemporary Dutch dairy farming. Wageningen University (PhD Dissertation).

75th Anniversary: 36) Hofstee’s puzzle: an innovation for socio-geographic research

In the 1950s Professor E.W. Hofstee from the former department Sociology and Sociography developed a tool to create maps with statistical data of the Netherlands. You could consider this technique as a predecessor to today’s GIS. In this video Anton Schuurman, Associate Professor of Rural and Environmental History at WUR, explains how the puzzle was used and why it was so unique.

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: 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.

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: 21) Geographies of power and rebellious social sciences

Garfagnana, Italy – picture by Jordan Treakle

by Jordan Treakle

My path to WUR’s Rural Sociology Group (RSO) differed from most of my fellow Masters students when I first arrived to Wageningen in August 2015. As a second-year student in the International Masters in Rural Development (IMRD) programme[1], I had spent the first year of my programme nomadically exploring the academic halls of the University of Ghent (Belgium), Humboldt University (Germany), and the University of Pisa (Italy) with my 27 fellow IMRDers. This unique and fast paced academic tour of Europe gave me a range of academic lens on agricultural economies and cooperative development in food systems that were enriching and informative. But these perspectives generally had not touched on the complex geographies of power and agency that I found most compelling. Luckily WUR’s small but worldly campus, with all of its contentious influences of corporate agribusiness research and rebellious social science scholarship, offered a critical forum to both intellectually digest the lessons of the other academic institutions I had visited during the first year of my programme, as well as dive into rural sociological concepts that reconfigured my relationship to place and later guided young career in farmer advocacy and agricultural policy. Continue reading

75th Anniversary: 19) The Boerinnengroep Wageningen: looking back

In the 1977, we, a group of women students and graduates, mostly in Rural Sociology, founded the so-called ‘Boerinnengroep’, which translates as ‘farm women’s group’[1]. The Boerinnengroep has contributed to new agendas of farmer and rural women’s organisations, agricultural policy and academia. It has also put, in a way, a strong imprint on our lives and careers. In this blog we look back. Continue reading