Dissertation Abstracts

Investigating resilience of agriculture and food systems: insights from two theories and two case studies

Author: Dwiartama, Angga , dwiartama@sith.itb.ac.id
Department: Centre for Sustainability
University: University of Otago, New Zealand
Supervisor: Prof. Hugh Campbell and Dr. Chris Rosin
Year of completion: 2014
Language of dissertation: English

Keywords: resilience , food regime theory , actor-network theory , agrifood system
Areas of Research: Agriculture and Food , Environment and Society


There is a growing concern described in the literature for the resilience of agri-food sector towards various shocks. Resilience, defined in this context, is the ability of a system or society to recover from crisis while maintaining its function and identity. This thesis identifies two contrasting perspectives influencing contemporary resilience thinking : one emphasises resilience as a system’s emergent property, the other emphasises the agency of the components to actively shape the system's resilience.

In response to those perspectives and drawing their significance to the agrifood sector, this thesis seeks to understand what ‘resilience’ means for agrifood systems in the context of local and global changes. It does so by offering a novel theoretical framework in which resilience thinking is in dialogue with two social theoretical approaches that are commonly recognised (albeit usually as contradictory perspectives) in agrifood studies: food regime theory and actor-network theory (ANT). This framework facilitates the assessment of resilience in different systems by bridging the conflicting perspectives within resilience thinking by means of a theoretical pluralism. The application of this theoretical framework illustrates how resilience is influenced by both a global structure that rises and declines in response to social, economic and environmental drivers, as well as local actors (both humans and material objects) that, through their relational effects, perform agency to enhance the adaptive capacity of the society.

The theoretical framework is examined empirically through case studies of two agrifood systems: Indonesia’s rice agriculture and the New Zealand kiwifruit industry. Data was collected from official documents, published reports and semi-structured interviews with 61 participants as stakeholders of the two agrifood systems.

The findings of this thesis illustrate that both agrifood systems have demonstrated resilience towards various shocks, but in different ways in response to differing variables. Food regime analysis suggests both that resilience of the two agrifood systems is influenced by the expansions and contractions of the global food regimes over the course of their development and, to some extent, that each agrifood system shaped the trajectories of the food regimes in which they reside. However, food regime theory fails to address the idiosyncrasies that occur and the agency of local actors in shaping the resilience of the systems. Analysis through ANT enables a closer look at how networks of human and non-human actors adapt to the shocks at a particular time and in a particular space. Findings indicate that the multiplicity of rice creates a diversity of meanings and actions by which resilience is enacted in the broad context of Indonesia, while kiwifruit facilitates a process of transformative resilience within the industry in New Zealand as a means to adapt to changing circumstances.

This thesis finds that, firstly, resilience is a dynamic, multi-dimensional, context-dependent process; secondly, different contemporary theoretical models focus on different aspects while over-looking others; and thirdly, therefore, resilience cannot be accurately gauged through generic models and measures. It concludes that resilience needs to be assessed using multiple tools that take account of and accommodate the uniqueness of each agriculture and food system.

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