Transition to Sustainable Food Systems: Integrative Perspectives on Production and Consumption
Location M213
Date and Start Time 02 September, 2016 at 09:00
Sessions 3


  • Josephine Mylan (University of Manchester) email
  • David Evans (University of Manchester) email

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Short Abstract

We invite contributions which connect perspectives in STS to the study of food and eating. We welcome theoretical and empirical papers that bridge the production-consumption divide to offer more symmetrical accounts of sustainable food systems.

Long Abstract

The sustainability of food systems represents a significant and growing societal challenge. The post war food regime (Freidman and McMichael 1989) of plenty is giving way to problems of climate change, resource depletion, and population growth. Political and academic responses to these challenges stress the need for more sustainable approaches to food production and patterns of consumption. Current academic scholarship, reflecting longstanding debates in fields of agro-food studies (Goodman, Lockie and Kitto 2000) and food consumption (Warde, DeVault, Fine), emphasises the need to understand the interconnections between sites and spaces of food production and consumption (Marsden and Morley 2014). To date however, efforts at fuller integration remain lopsided - tending to privilege one side of the production-consumption divide. This conference track invites contributions that seek to bridge this analytic divide, to develop more symmetrical approaches to sustainable food systems. We invite contributions that draw from perspectives in STS and connect to other traditions such as economic sociology, innovation studies and consumption scholarship. Themes include (but are not limited to):

o The role of technologies and materials in co-configuring and transforming practices of production, provision, preservation, eating and ridding of food

o New production-distribution-consumption arrangements such as urban farming, food box schemes, food sharing initiatives

o Efforts of different actors (e.g. collectives, major retailers) in the development, adoption and diffusion of sustainable innovations and practices

o Connections between 'natural' and metabolic processes and forms of cultural and economic organization

o The construction and negotiation of the value and quality of food


This track is closed to new paper proposals.


Analysing innovation between 'production' and 'consumption': Why food is different

Author: Josephine Mylan (University of Manchester)  email

Short Abstract

This paper highlights the importance of existing arrangements, interests and technologies in processes of gradual re-configuration toward more sustainable food systems, explored through the case of meat production-consumption.

Long Abstract

Many innovations promising more sustainable food require changes across both 'production' and 'consumption'. This paper argues that a useful contribution to understanding this transformation can be made by attention to mechanisms which connect, translate or respond to changes across the production-consumption divide. Drawing on perspectives from economic sociology, innovation studies and STS, three analytical topics are proposed to analyses the reconfiguration of production-consumption systems. Each is illustrated with reference to meat - a topic which is rising up the agenda in debates on food sustainability. The first is the reproduction of 'qualities' of food by processes spanning firms, farms, NGOs, policymakers and consumers. The second is the framing of societal 'problems' - such as health, climate change and animal welfare and the interaction between these. The third concerns forms of 'service' embedded within a particular technologies of governance, such as prepared food, food labels or cookery books. The paper argues that the three topics (quality, problem, service) offer a means of uncovering mechanisms linking 'production' and 'consumption', and therefore key processes which reproduce ongoing dynamics within the food system, often in unsustainable directions (e.g. toward the 'meatification' of diet and agriculture). So, while many studies of transitions privilege the unfolding of the 'new' this paper highlights the importance of existing arrangements, interests and technologies in processes of gradual re-configuration toward more sustainable food systems.

An unnoticed innovation. Raw milk vending facilities in Italy and the possible reconfiguration of dairy products' regime.

Authors: Tiziana Piccioni  email
Alvise Mattozzi (Free University of Bozen-Bolzano)  email

Short Abstract

We intend to present the case of raw milk vending facilities in Italy, showing how these facilities intended to reconfigure the regime of dairy products.

Long Abstract

Since 2003 facilities made in the shape of little huts or of bus stops have sprouted all over the Italian territory, especially in its northern regions. These facilities accommodate raw milk vending machines. Each of these facilities, which are managed directly by the breeder who usually owns them, works as a site and space where production and consumption can meet each other.

Through them, Italian breeders have tried to create an alternative food sale system with the aim of providing quality at a lower price for consumers and higher revenues per liter and liquidity for themselves. In trying to establish such alternative food sale system, these facilities did not just provide a different way of exchanging goods for money, but also qualified such exchange with values and practices opposed to those of the big distribution: a logic of care vs a logic of choice, attention to the local dimension vs neglect of the local dimension, direct relationship between consumers and producers vs and indirect or absent relation between consumers and producers.

With our paper, based in part on a previous research (Piccioni 2010; Mattozzi and Piccioni 2012), in part on new recently gathered data, we intend to present the story of these facilities, of their rise and of their fall. Thanks to an Actor-Theory framework, we will show how they performed as an innovation promising to overcome the level of a niche practice in order to reconfigure the regime of dairy production and consumption.

Sustainable Food Technologies: Méconnaissance in Production-Consumption of Natural Food

Authors: Laura Trachte (Technische Universität München)  email
Barbara Sutter (TU München)  email

Short Abstract

The contribution suggests bridging the production-consumption divide in the case of organic food products by arguing that both realms are prone to processes of méconnaissance (Bourdieu) when it comes to their naturalness as an argument for their sustainable character.

Long Abstract

Organic food seems a good choice when it comes to sustainable production and consumption. It promises positive effects towards the Social, the Economic and the Ecological - the latter in particular by its preference for natural processes. Although it seems pretty obvious that these processes are often highly technologized, the popularity of organic products as the more sustainable option stands and falls with their natural image.

Yet, nutritional products are the result of a variety of techniques, like breeding, growing, processing and logistics. But neither can we see these technological aspects, nor can we be sure how much and what kind of technology our foodstuffs exist of. Whether a tomato is conventionally or organically produced, we cannot know by its looks or taste (Heuts/Mol 2013).

Bearing this in mind, the presentation will focus on how organic food products are made plausible as being more 'natural' than conventional products - in a material and semiotic sense. The assumption is that organic food becomes plausible as being 'natural' because technology is not recognized as such. Even more: Our paper will argue that there is a trend towards méconnaissance (Bourdieu 1976) of the technological aspects of food which holds true for both, their production and consumption.

With reference to empirical data gained from production and consumption processes (plant breeding and vegetable marketing in various forms) we will show that these are interconnected by the same mechanisms when it comes to their naturality as an argument for their sustainability.

Quality under construction: symmetric approach to sustainable food systems in post-transition society

Authors: Wojciech Goszczyński (Nicolaus Copernicus Univeristy )  email
Michał Wróblewski (Nicolaus Copernicus University)  email
Łukasz Afeltowicz (Nicolaus Copernicus University)  email
Anna Wójtewicz (Nicolaus Copernicus University)  email

Short Abstract

Aim of this speech is to answer how sustainable quality of food is constructed at specific post-transitional societies? How producers and consumers are reconfiguring socio-economic micro-universes, what role, in this process plays: hybrid knowledge, practices, traditions, institutions, civic models.

Long Abstract

Researchers emphasize that there are two sides of contemporary food systems. At the one hand there is industrial or super-industrial mode of production: quantitatively efficient, vertically separated, dependent from resources. At the other hand there is alternative model: which refer to social and moral values, reflexive locality, civic participation of different actors. It our presentation we want to focus on the second model. One of the most important aspects of emerging alternative food networks is their hybrid character. Those networks merge different kind of knowledge, rural and urban actors, classes, technology and culture, devices and consumer's practices. Alternative food networks are also related to notion of quality. The quality turn is useful sociological tool to look at the scope and nature of consumer-producers behaviours in the post-modern capitalism. This concept moves the attention from the economical effectiveness onto considerations on the nature of social relations and goods produced by the contemporary economy. Theoreticians of the quality turn argue that in the new, socialised model a more important role is played by new active actors whose knowledge, experiences, connections and values are going to determine the food production and consumption systems. This leads us to the aim of this paper: how food quality is constructed at very specific post-transitional conditions of Polish society? How Polish producers, processors and consumers are reconfiguring socio-economic micro-universes and what role, in this process plays: hybrid knowledge, products, devices, consumer practices, traditions, institutions and specific civic models.

Grassroots as bottom-up responsible innovation: the case of food common puchasing groups

Authors: Sergio Belda Miquel (Universitat Politècnica de València)  email
Alejandra Boni (Ingenio (CSIC-UPV))  email
Barbara Ribeiro (University of Nottingham)  email
David Barbera-Tomas (Universidad Politécnica de Valencia)  email

Short Abstract

The paper explore the experience of food common purchasing groups in the city of Valencia (Spain). It conceptualizes them as grassroots processes of responsible innovation, thus exploring its contribution to more sustainable food systems through citizen action driven and by values.

Long Abstract

The paper approaches the experience of food common purchasing groups in the city of Valencia (Spain). To analyse the potential and contributions of the initiatives as more sustainable alternative food networks, the paper departs from the idea that they can be conceptualized as grassroots processes were responsible innovation (RI) takes place. This is why be depart from key dimensions of RI, namely public participation, reflection on values and responsiveness toward society, to explore the contributions of these gropus for sustainability. These are longstanding dimensions which have been of interest to STS, but which only start to be explored in the case of grassroots movements.

Based on the results of a process of participatory action research, interviews and etnographic work, we look at the fuctioning and structural aspects of these common purchasing groups to understand key conditions for the development of more sustainable food systems: social inclusion, careful and transparent deliberation, and capacity to produce change. We argue that the concept of RI, which mobilises people and resources around research on food systems, is generally attached to narratives of top-down technological innovation and development of emerging technologies, rather than those of social innovation through bottom-up movements. Yet, our case study demonstrate that, through community action, grassroots movement movements have the potential to address the main objective of RI through bottom-up innovation, that of aligning innovation with societal needs within a paradigm of environmental and social sustainability. Common purchasing groups would be addressing this end in the case of agrofood systems.

The role of niche innovations in transition pathways in the agro-food system

Authors: Joyce Zwartkruis (PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency)  email
Henk Westhoek  email

Short Abstract

Studying innovations at the intersection of consumption and production can help to gain insight in the transition pathways towards sustainable development of the agro-food system. Although niche innovations have difficulties to gain enough momentum, there are changes visible in the agro-food system.

Long Abstract

A large share of the pressure on the environment is related to food consumption and production. Technical and social innovations are necessary to reduce this pressure. After decades of increasing efficiency of food production (with often negative side-effects, such as high use of pesticides and animal welfare issues), there seems to be more interest for changes at the consumption side as well as at the intersection of consumption and production (e.g. food boxes and 'local food'). It is important to take into account innovations on both the production and consumption side and view these in the context of the agro-food system. This is however not easy as the agro-food system consists of many actors and activities that are closely connected.

In affluent regions, a change in diet (e.g. lower meat consumption) will probably have a larger effect on the environment than incremental changes in production methods. Consumption is however hard to change, as it is determined by many cultural and personal preferences. The question is in what way pathways towards a sustainable agro-food system are developing in the context of the agro-food system. By studying niche innovations both at the production and consumption side we gain insight in these pathways. Results show that niche innovations hardly gain enough 'momentum' to break through, and strong lock ins and limited cracks and tensions prevent breakthroughs. Moreover, many niches (such as urban farming) are not aiming to contribute to global environmental issues, but these are more related to public health and social issues.

Avoiding the pitfalls of urban life? - Understanding grocery shopping

Author: Malin Henriksson (VTI, Swedish National Road and Transport Research Institute)  email

Short Abstract

Online food shopping offers an alternative to an activity that often prescribe car trips, namely grocery shopping. The paper suggest that in order to reach the potential energy savings of e-commerce we need to understand how potential users experience grocery shopping.

Long Abstract

Online food shopping offers an alternative to an everyday life activity that often prescribe car trips, namely grocery shopping. A growing market of online food shopping services enable distributors to control "the last mile", where the products reach the consumers. However, in order to meet the energy saving potential of online food shopping there are several problems to address. Increased e-commerce does not necessarily mean an increase in car use (Börjesson Rivera et. al 2014). Frith (2012) suggests that instead of replacing physical mobility, e-commerce change our understanding of space. Online grocery shopping is potentially a technology that allow consumers to control their mobility. STS literature have taught us that technology is never accessible to all users. Social, economic and spatial contexts exclude a number of users (Oudshoorn & Pinch 2003). Does everyone want to "avoid the pitfalls of urban life" (Graham & Marvin 2001)? Through focus group conversations with informants that does not use online grocery shopping services today, this paper analyze the notion of "excluded users". Is it possible that grocery shopping is a meaningful activity? Could "non-user" be a user identity by choice rather than exclusion? The paper suggest that in order to understand the process of inclusion/exclusion we need to listen to how non-user describe and experience grocery shopping. This paper contributes empirically to the study of food consumption and from a user perspective discuss the possibility to reach sustainable food systems.

Organising sustainability by global standards: certifications and the production of nature-cultures for sustainable coffee in Colombia

Author: Derly Sanchez Vargas (Lancaster University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores the enactments of sustainability in certification schemes for the production of sustainable coffee in Colombia.

Long Abstract

This paper offers an empirical analysis of the production and implementation of Sustainability Standards in the production of coffee in Colombia by following the enactment of these standards in auditing and standard setting processes. Based on a set of diverse sources, technical documents, policies, codes, norms, interviews and participant observation I show the ways in which these standards operate in practice and their connection with global infrastructures. Drawing on science and technology studies, organisation studies and anthropology I approach ethnography the global connection between standards international governance, auditing practices and the local experience of farmers in relation to certification in Colombia. I am particularly interested in understanding the practices by means sustainable standards produce segmentation between the nature (the environment) and the social (work) in order to be reintegrated in function of the economic (the market). The motto of sustainable standards has been to promote the 3P (people, planet and profit). This paper discusses the role of standards in the materialisation of these values in the material context of coffee production. I explore the following questions: Do standards codify universals under specific framings and ontologies; for example evaluation and compliance practices? How do sustainability standards produce the objects that standardise? Particularly, how are produced the nature, the social and the economic as separate and integrated realms?

Sustainable Intensification: agroecological appropriation versus contestation?

Author: Les Levidow (The Open University)  email

Short Abstract

The ‘sustainable intensification’ agenda seeks to make conventional agro-food chains more environmentally sustainable. A hostile response has come from CSO-farmer alliances promoting agroecology. The conflict can be illuminated by the theoretical frameworks of food regime and innovation-systems.

Long Abstract

The 'sustainable intensification' agenda has sought to make conventional agro-food chains more environmentally sustainable through a broad 'toolkit' incorporating agroecological methods, GM crops, no-till, etc. The concept 'sustainable intensification' blurs the distinction between an agroecological agenda and Green Revolution capital-intensive agenda. In Europe a hostile response has come from CSO-farmer alliances promoting agroecology to link several objectives: knowledge-exchange about biodiversity, farmers' independence from input suppliers, food sovereignty and short food-supply chains remunerating farmers for agroecological methods.

This tension arises from a neoproductivist paradigm seeking to reconcile productivist aims with resource conservation. It faces the challenge to locate the environmental sustainability and resilience of national food-supply systems within current globalisation patterns (Marsden, 2012). The tension can be illuminated by the theoretical framework 'food regime', for analysing potential transitions beyond the agro-industrial regime which has been globally dominant since the 1970s. New strategies for capital accumulation have incorporated 'green' or 'quality' products which were previously associated with alternative trajectories from social movements. This tendency has been theorised as a nascent corporate-environmental food regime (Friedmann, 2005, 2009); this concept helps to contextualise sustainable intensification.

The tension around that concept can also be illuminated by innovation-systems theory, whereby a niche innovation can either transform the wider regime or else accommodate it (Smith and Raven, 2012). This framework helps to analyse how agroecological methods can play the role of incorporation and/or contestation vis a vis the dominant agro-food regime.

Paths to Agricultural Sustainability in Japan: Life Sciences or Agro-ecology?

Author: Tomiko Yamaguchi (International Christian University)  email

Short Abstract

Two approaches of agricultural knowledge generation and transfer -- life sciences and agro-ecology -- present vastly different views of the path to building sustainable agrifood systems. The differences between these visions manifest in their efforts to enroll public support.

Long Abstract

The idea of sustainable agrofood systems has become an important goal of the policy agenda in Japan, as reflected by the recently revised Food, Agriculture and Rural Areas Basic Act. The dominant discourse suggests that interventions are required at this juncture to ease pressures resulting from the decline in the food self-sufficiency ratio (from 73% in 1965 to 39% in 2014), from the aging and declining farm population (an average of 66.7 years old as of 2014), and from further integration with the global market. Proposed solutions to the problem of sustainable food systems run the gamut from technoscientific to ecological perspectives. Using the analytical framework proposed by Levidow et al. (2012), this paper examines two contrasting approaches to the generation and transfer of knowledge: life sciences and agro-ecology. Our goals are to explicate the problems identified, visions proposed, and activities undertaken to gain wider acceptance of the innovations and practices involved in each of these paradigms. The study finds that even though both approaches embrace the idea that "sustainability" is the key to shaping future agrofood systems, two distinct processes to attain this ideal are articulated, with different visions of the way to obtain public engagement and support. The paper draws information from published reports with regard to new plant breeding techniques, participant observations conducted in public forums on the theme of organic farming and interviews with organic farmers.

Imagining food in 2040: interrogating prevalent narratives of Milan World fair

Authors: Ângela Guimarães Pereira (European Commission )  email
Alba L'Astorina (CNR Italian National Research Council)  email
Irene Tomasoni  email
Alessia Ghezzi (DG Joint Research Centre - European Commission)  email

Short Abstract

Food Futuring Tours consisted of a series of walking tours in the EXPO2015 with invited citizens, who developed visions for food futures and future of foods. Ten visions were produced, which interrogate the main food narrative, celebrating technology fixes to our current predicaments.

Long Abstract

During the EXPO2015 in Milan - the world exhibition that focused on "Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life" - several countries have showcased technologies, innovation, culture, traditions, around food production, distribution, preservation and consumption. We invited 90 citizens to engage on Food Futuring Tours, which consisted of a series of walking tours in the EXPO's pavilions. Different groups of participants were invited to imagine the future of food and foods of the future, both individually and collectively, exploring what was visible in the food production, distribution and consumption narratives of the EXPO. Participants were asked to imagine visions of food for 2040, considering their possible social, ethical, cultural and environmental impacts.

Ten visions for 2040 were developed over the five encounters: 'Awareness', 'Cultivation', 'Party',


'Co-existence', Self-sustainability', 'Responsibility',



'Convergence'. Each of these were presented with a timeline, illustrated with photos taken by the participants tagged with different temporalities, a storyline, each emphasizing different strategies. Most visions were utopian, emphasizing human agency as a key driver.

All visions were similar as they were all quite critical of the EXPO narratives, but all focused on very different values and strategies to address current dilemmas of food production, distribution and consumption. Challenges were identified and explored by the participants in form of drivers, uncertainties and surprises, as in any scenario development exercise. Here we will describe how the futuring tours enacted a space to make sense of interconnections between places of food production and consumption, and how the value and quality of food were constructed and negotiated in the resulting visions.

This track is closed to new paper proposals.