Imaginary futures of food provisioning practices in peri-urban areas – Martin Ruivenkamp

Since a couple of months, I’m employed as postdoc researcher by the Rural Sociology Group and assigned to the project Urbanising in Place, a selected project of the Sustainable Urbanisation Global Initiative (SUGI) that is funded by the European Commission under the Horizon 2020 ERA-NET Cofund scheme. Let me introduce myself to you, but I’m interested in getting to know you too! So, please do not hesitate to contact me at

I do feel ‘at home’ at the Rural Sociology group. Surely, this might be related to the fact that I heard many good stories about Rural Sociology from people close to me… And, the work carried out by members of Rural Sociology intrigue me and motivate me to contribute to the three themes RSO focuses on: 1) the development of ecological and socially sustainable agrarian and food policies by studying the role of agricultural and rural activities, products and services in metropolitan and peri-urban regions; 2) the identification and reconfiguration of modes of connectivity between the production and consumption of food, by taking a multidimensional approach to food and reconnecting food to the social, cultural and environmental context of food provisioning practices; 3) the generation of images and narratives of ‘other’ values that build on a reappropriation of space through practices that reflect both rural-urban differences and symbiosis and overcome commoditisation of rurality. These themes link up nicely, however maybe creatively, to my previous meanderings through the landscape of social science. Looking back, the pathway that emerged through my wanderings in the fields of social psychology (MSc in 2004), sociology (Ba in 2005), and Science and Technology Studies (PhD in 2011; postdoc research since 2013) foregrounds my interests in the interwovenness of the real and imaginary, the practised and the envisioned and I look forward to apply these concepts as a lens for exploring food provisioning practices in peri-urban areas. I will further elaborate these issues within the contexts of ‘Urbanising in Place’ project. This project investigates how small-scale food provisioning practices on the metropolitan fringe, threatened by ever-expanding urbanisation dynamics, may be reimagined and reconfigured in such ways that rather than being pushed out of metropolitan areas they can be enabled to claim an active role in managing the food-water-energy nexus in the (near) future. Within the confinements of the overall research programme I am not to take the future as an extension of a dominant now, but rather to explore the envisioning of various potentialities of multitudinous futures and investigate how to shift perspective from the obvious, mainstream food system, to the multitude of food provisioning practices, developing and emerging from ‘below’ and how to appraise their roles in social and ecological sustainable futures.

Aside from the above, my roots also explain my contentment to have become part Rural Sociology. As a kid, I always enjoyed visiting my grandparents in Italy. Being originally peasants from Calabria (a region in the ‘poor’ southern parts of Italy) who for economic reasons had migrated to the ‘rich’ north of Italy, working the land was part of their being. Therefore, next to a small two-room apartment in the centre of smoggy Milan, where my grandfather had started a restaurant serving traditional Calabrian food, they had a cottage in the hills of Alessandria (one and a half hour drive from Milan). Here they had an orchard with various fruit trees (apricots, peaches, prunes, cherries), a vineyard and they grew their own vegetables. I always loved to climb the trees and pick and eat the fruit while sitting in the trees and have lunch with the whole family underneath the umbrella pine close to the house. My grandma processed the tomatoes and basil from the garden into pasta sauce, which, with the fresh homemade pasta she made, needed just a little parmesan cheese to make it taste beautiful. The wine came directly from the neighbours and was made partly with the grapes my grandfather grew. Also, years later, when my grandparents had to sell the cottage and were stuck in their two-room apartment, my grandmother kept huge basil plants on the balcony, which, with an open window, smelled up the whole living room. My grandfather rented a small plot next to a power station a couple of blocks from their house, to be able to continue to work the field and grow his tomatoes. In Milan, due to his connections in the catering industry, he sometimes was able to obtain from friends ‘Sardella’, a typical fish conserve from Calabria – also known as ‘Poor man’s caviar’.

These memories, the smells and tastes are to my opinion important points of focus manifested in studies of regional food dynamics, diverse modes of food provisioning (in peri-urban and urban areas) and interlinked food networks (as in this case emerging from migration flows). I do believe in the relevancy of giving affective credence to food knowledge, food appreciation and consciousness in the identification and generation of socially just and ecologically sustainable food futures. And, I hope, without sounding too histrionic, in the coming three years to be able to combine ‘heart’ and ‘mind’ and form new personal pathways that contribute – e.g. through action research approaches – to the identification of diversity, making visible the potentialities of unconventional food practices, broadening the scientific, policy-oriented and public visions of food provisioning activities and advancing multiple food futures and policy decisions. In elaborating these ‘small-scale’ ambitions I guess I will very much appreciate an automatic wifi connection.