XVII ISA World Congress of Sociology, Sociology on the move, Gothenburg, Sweden, July 2010

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Research Committee on
Sociology of Agriculture and Food RC40

Programme Coordinator
Gianluca Brunori, University of Pisa, Italy, gbrunori@agr.unipi.it
Masashi Tachikawa, Ibaraki University, Japan, mtachi@mx.ibaraki.ac.jp

Congress Programme


Title: World agriculture and food in search of new paradigms

There is a growing consensus, among international institutions, that the present mechanisms that regulate the way food is produced, distributed, consumed are unsustainable and uneven. Global drivers such as climate change and resource exhaustion give further motivation to the search for alternatives. However, if one moves from diagnosis to the possible solutions, it is evident that the consensus is much lower on the alternatives to the present state of matter.

Issues such as the energy crisis, adaptation to climate change, human health, food security  are now object of attention and of intervention by grassroots movements as well as transnational corporations. But beyond the apparent consensus over catchphrases such as ‘sustainability’, ‘equity’, ‘resilience’, there are deep conflicts over the ways these concepts are worked out and put into practice. These conflicts can be seen as ‘wars between paradigms’, that is among coherent systems of meanings able to orient people’s behavior as well as their expectations with regard to change.

If on one side the crisis stimulates the growth and the increasing legitimization of alternative coalitions such as fair trade, organic farming, farmers’ markets, community supported agriculture, consumers’ purchasing groups, that have long ago anticipated issues that are now at the centre of public attention, on the other side food corporations invest into ‘corporate responsibility’ projects in order to improve their image toward the public, trying  to demonstrate that coexistence among profits, sustainability and equity is possible.

In this war between paradigms, large ‘grey areas’ and knowledge gaps emerge, that need to be addressed. What is wrong and what is right of corporate responsibility projects? Is there only a matter of internal contradiction between these projects and their main business, or are their projects inherently wrong? How to assess their attempts to make alliances with segments of the alternative networks, such as organic or fair trade? And what are the strengths and weaknesses of alternative coalitions? What is their role and their impact, and how it changes when they grow? What are the problems they fail to take into consideration? What are their contradictions? What are the constraints that limit their capacity to change the present regimes?

Sessions organized by RC40 will develop theoretical reflection and bring empirical evidence on these issues from a broad range of countries and contexts.

Sessions descriptions

Session 1: Grassroots movements for sustainable, local and convivial consumption. Part I
Joint session of RC40 Sociology of Agriculture and Food [host committee] and RC47 Social Classes and Social Movements

Session 2: The challenge of alternative food systems to existing food paradigms
Chair: Marie Christine Renard, Mexico, mcrenard@gmail.com

Session 3: New directions in analyzing the global food system and its alternatives
RC40 Plenary
Chair: Gianluca Brunori, Italy, gbrunori@agr.unipi.it

Session 4: Rural development and the changing role of agriculture
Chair: Manuel Belo Moreira, Portugal, mbelomoreira@isa.utl.pt

Session 5: The politics of food security
Chair: Elizabeth Ransom, University of Richmond, USA, eransom@richmond.edu

Session 6: Sustainable city-regions: The role of food
Convenor: Roberta Sonnino, Cardiff University, UK, SonninoR@cardiff.ac.uk
At a time when more than half of the world’s population is urbanized, academics and practitioners alike are increasingly calling for research that contributes to more sustainable spatial and socio-economic linkages between cities and their rural hinterland. Food is rapidly moving to the forefront of this new academic and political challenge, given its unique role in sustaining human life, its intensive use of natural resources such as land, water and fossil fuel and its connections with a wide range of urban and regional policy areas (from land-use planning to infrastructure and transport, from environmental conservation to housing and economic development).

This session will critically investigate the real and potential role of food in creating sustainable city-regions. Specifically, the session aims to address three key questions: what is the role of different food chain actors, governance levels, spatial scales and pro-poor planning strategies in reconnecting cities (physically, economically and socially) with their surrounding countryside? What kind of challenges and capacities emerge at different nodal points of the city-region’s food system –e.g., production, distribution, access, consumption and the creation of markets? What type of theoretical and methodological tools are needed to fully capture the potential of food as a vehicle for creating new spatial and social connections between different segments of the urban, rural and peri-urban populations?

To address these fundamental and timely questions, the session will welcome both theoretical and empirical contributions on metropolitan food systems. These could include, for example, case studies on formal and informal urban/regional food strategies, the sustainable development potential of public food procurement, the relationship between food and urban/peri-urban regeneration initiatives, the role of different food chain actors (e.g., producers, planners, traders and consumer-citizens) in creating more sustainable physical, economic and social linkages between cities and their rural hinterland, and emerging institutional challenges in food governance.

Theoretical contributions are also welcome –especially in relation to the increasingly perceived need to devise conceptual and methodological tools that can allow social scientists to move beyond the “rural-urban” divide and develop a more nuanced understanding of the complex relationship between food (including “local” food) and the objectives of sustainable development.

Session 7: Understanding new trends in food governance
Chair: Wynne Wright, Michigan State University, USA, wrightwy@anr.msu.edu

Session 8: Food safety and change in agrifood: Causes, processes, and consequences
Convenor: Bill Friedland, University of California, USA, friedla@ucsc.edu

The growing critique of agrifood systems in recent years is a reflection of series of crises that have undermined what had been a generalized acceptance of the legitimacy — and safety — of food provision. The crises were created by failures of regulation, the expansiveness of state deregulation and the privatization of food safety management, incessant food horror stories, and developing consciousness in many nations of obesity and what appears to be a pandemic of diabetes. Some consequences have already become clear; for example, the increased push for organics and localism in food provision accompanied by global agribusinesses co-opting or subverting the original intents of movement pioneers through mainstreaming/conventionalization.

Session 9: Comparative perspectives on agricultural regimes and policy responses to the food crisis, increasing energy prices and climate change. Part I
Convenors:
Reidar Almås, Centre for Rural Research, Norway, reidar.almas@rural.no
Hugh Campbell, University of Otago, New Zealand
Hilde Bjørkhaug, Centre for Rural Research, Norway, hilde.bjorkhaug@rural.no
Katrina Rønningen, Centre for Rural Research, Trondheim, Norway, katrina.ronningen@rural.no

In the late-1980s and 1990s a common view was emerging amongst farmers, policy-makers and academics in Europe that a new world agricultural order was upon us. The post-war ‘productivist years’ appeared to be over as the problem with global agriculture switched from under-supply to over-supply, and public sentiment from food security and prices to environment, animal welfare and health. European governments reacted by partly de-coupling the link between production and subsidies and promoting alternative income sources often oriented towards the consumption of the countryside.

Although characterised as ‘conforming to an embedded neo-liberal mode of governance’ this turn has been of significance politically, ideologically and practically, and also with some environmental benefits. Multifunctionality has been an important consideration in WTO agricultural negotiations, and even those countries who dismiss it as ‘disguised protectionism’ have developed agri-environment programmes of their own. However, the past two years have introduced some serious doubts.

Rising incomes in countries like India and China have increased demand for food. Increasingly pessimistic predictions concerning the impact of global warming on agriculture, coupled with major climate change events, have led to doubt about the capability of the current agricultural system to provide a reliable supply of food in the future. Rising crude oil prices have resulted in major cost increases for agricultural inputs resulting in prices rises for key commodities. Further, attempts to promote biofuels have seen huge areas of grain producing land converted to crops for fuel production. Food market speculation was another factor pushing up commodity prices. Recently food prices have fallen again, showing a more unstable and fluctuating pattern.

In response to this shift from stable rural development premised on post-productivism in Europe and ‘greening’ exports in other exporting countries to a global food economy increasingly influenced by shocks and surprise events, do agricultural policies need to regain a strengthened production focus in First World countries? Will the recent respite in productivist approaches turn out to be a temporary shift and, if so, is a neo-productivist regime emerging? Or is this set of responses just one of many strategies emerging in the face of new shocks to the world food economy? Do these changes amount to the advent of a new ‘bioeconomy’? Can farmers make a living growing feed stock for industrial, energy or pharmaceutical production?

Are we seeing a new technological imperative in agriculture? How do responses differ between countries and between different agricultural policy regimes? What are the consequences for rural, environmental and socio-cultural sustainability? What are the implications for rural diversification strategies and for the inclusion of previously excluded social groups (such as women) that they have encouraged? Is there a decisive shift in the balance of power occurring in rural areas between production, consumption and environmental interests?

And does the new focus on climate, food and energy production challenge conceptualisations and (theoretical) approaches within rural studies, or is what we are seeing only a confirmation of the driving forces of capitalism, productivism and neoliberalism? The working group welcomes papers which describe, explore and discuss impacts of the new situation for their national agricultural systems and farm and climate change policies.

Session 10: Comparative perspectives on agricultural regimes and policy responses to the food crisis, increasing energy prices and climate change. Part II
Co-Chairs: Katrina Rønningen, Centre for Rural Research, Trondheim, Norway, katrina.ronningen@rural.no
and Hugh Campbell, University of Otago, New Zealand

Session 11: Business Meeting

Joint sessions hosted by other RC

Joint Session: Grassroots movements for sustainable, local and convivial consumption. Part II
Joint session of RC40 Sociology of Agriculture and Food and RC47 Social Classes and Social Movements [host committee]

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Integrative session 2: Globalization, subjects and crisis
Tuesday, July 13, 08:30-10:30
Integrative session of Research Committees RC40 Sociology of Agriculture and Food, RC47 Social Classes and Social Movements and RC48 Research Committee on Social Movements, Collective Action and Social