About Han Wiskerke

Chair and Professor of Rural Sociology at Wageningen University (The Netherlands) Research domains: rural development, multifunctional agriculture, city-region food systems

In memoriam Dr Paul Hebinck

It is with a very heavy heart that we have to announce that our beloved, recently retired colleague Dr Paul Hebinck has suddenly passed away, while on holidays in France. Paul was a colorful, committed and extremely collegial development sociologist who worked at Wageningen University from 1989 until his retirement in 2019. Specialized in rural development, land and agrarian reform, resource management and agricultural livelihoods, Paul was happiest doing long-term research in what he referred to as his ‘dorpies’ (local villages) in Kenya, Namibia and South Africa. His commitment to the people that he worked with, studied and supported was unwavering, akin to his commitment to his many students, colleagues and academic friends all over the world. Transformation, Paul consistently taught us, needs to be studied and supported ‘from below’, and must be inspired by and rooted in the people that work the land. This is a lesson we hold dear at the Sociology of Development and Change and Rural Sociology groups, and that we will continue to spread and teach. Paul did not want to retire and was indeed still very active with publications and projects. Those who knew Paul understand that the world truly is a lot quieter without him. We will miss Paul dearly and think of his wife, children, family and friends.

On behalf of the Sociology of Development and Change Group and the Rural Sociology Group, prof. Bram Büscher, prof. Han Wiskerke

75th Anniversary Rural Sociology – The After Movie

75th anniversary event

On 13 May 2022, we celebrated the 75th anniversary of the Rural Sociology Group of Wageningen University with a public event entitled “Rural Sociology: past, present and future”. The event took place in Akoesticum in Ede and was attended by approximately 130 people: current and former staff members, current and former MSc and PhD students, and current and former collaborators in (inter)national research projects. In addition to this event we wrote and edited a book entitled ‘On Meaningful Diversity: Past, present and future of Wageningen rural sociology’ and a group of (former) PhD students put together a PhD magazine. Both are open access publications.

The entire anniversary event was filmed and a 16 minute compilation video of the day can be found here:

Compilation video of the 75th anniversary event of the Rural Sociology Group

In addition all presentations and talks are available online in order of the program of the day:

  1. Opening by Arthur Mol (Rector Magnificus of Wageningen University)
  2. Keynote by Han Wiskerke: Meaningful diversity: Past, present and future of rural sociology
  3. Keynote by Haroon Akram-Lodhi: From peasant studies to critical agrarian studies
  4. Rural Talk Show:  Interactive session including invited guests and audience participation. The Talk Show was chaired by Matt Reed, with Jan Douwe van der Ploeg as a permanent table guest, and changing table guests around the following three themes:
    • Session 1– Societal engagement or academic distance; with Jessica Duncan, Aya Kimura, Han Wiskerke
    • Session 2 – Discussing the rural-urban dichotomy; with Henk Oostindie, Sally Shortall, Esther Veen
    • Session 3 – A continuing debate: agency and structure; with Bettina Bock, Bram Büscher, Mark Vicol
  5. Closure morning session by stand-up musician Bart Kiers
  6. Keynote by Hannah Wittman: Bridging rural and urban through agroecological networks: cultivating agrarian citizenship in a climate crisis
  7. Presentation of Research Agendas: Imagining the next 25 years of rural sociology. Interactive session around three research agendas, briefly pitched by RSO staff, followed by an open floor exchange of ideas and discussion:
    • Pitch 1– Agriculture – introduction Kees Jansen
    • Pitch 2 – Place – introduction Joost Jongerden
    • Pitch 3 – Food – introduction Jessica Duncan
  8. Closure afternoon session by stand-up musician Bart Kiers



75th Anniversary: 59) Rural Sociology’s PhD Magazine – a tribute to PhD research and education

2021 was a very special year for the Rural Sociology Group: as the chair group turned 75 years old, more than 100 people from all over the world have successfully completed their PhD with this group. PhDs have contributed to our understanding of the three main themes that characterize the research lines of RSO: agriculture, food, and place. They have developed a diverse range of theoretical frameworks. Former PhDs of RSO have continued their professional careers in farming, research, and project implementation in academia, the government, international organizations, and NGOs. Throughout the 75 years of RSO, we have seen a considerable increase of female and non-Dutch PhD candidates, and increasingly research sites outside of the Netherlands and Europe are studied. The trajectory of a PhD and funding structures have transformed as well.

Cover PhD Magazine 75 years Rural Sociology

To celebrate the 75th anniversary of RSO, we developed a RSO PhD magazine as a tribute to PhD research and education at RSO. In the magazine we share stories of a selection of former and current PhD candidates. You will find a tribute to Bruno Benvenuti, former PhD candidate and professor at RSO, written by Jan Douwe van der Ploeg. We trace the trajectory of several PhD alumni. These stories provide insight in their research topics as a PhD at RSO, the rewards and challenges they faced to complete their projects, the influence of their research on their current professional jobs and vice versa the influence of previous (work) experiences on their PhD research.

Other sections of the magazine highlight the life of PhDs that graduated and continued their academic career at RSO. For this, current staff wrote a letter to their “younger-selves” to reflect on the time when they were PhD candidates. Besides these retrospectives, the magazine also contains a section with stories from the field from current PhDs. In the end, the magazine offers a rich conversation between the chair holder of RSO, Han Wiskerke, Professor Bettina Bock, and Emeritus Professor Jan Douwe van der Ploeg. They reflect on their experience of supervising PhDs candidates, candidates who have inspired them, and the lessons they carry forward from their own PhD journey. In between these stories, the magazine documents a variety of interesting developments and trends among the PhD candidates and their research. Do you know when the first woman completed her PhD at RSO? Which nationality is represented most among candidates after the Dutch nationality?

This magazine was borne out of curiosity. Curiosity about former PhDs, their research and trajectories, and how PhD trajectories have changed over 75 years. The magazine was designed and edited by us as current and former PhD candidates. We are grateful to all the people who contributed to the magazine and made the production of this magazine possible. The process of creating this magazine and the end-result made us even more proud of the inspiring, warm chair group RSO is and was over the last 75 years. We want to invite you to get inspired as well, as you can now find the digital version of our magazine via de following link: https://edepot.wur.nl/568431

At the Rural Sociology 75th Anniversary celebration on May 13th 2022 you can get one of the beautiful hard copy versions. See the program of the event. You can register for this public event via the following link: https://widget.yourticketprovider.nl/?cid=1095970&productid=39345&dec=true#/tickets/39345/. Please register before the 30th of April 2022!

We wish you an enjoyable read!
Thirza Andriessen, Dawn Cheong, Lisette Nikol, Lucie Sovova, and Claudia Oviedo

Grond van Ons

Op maandag 31 januari om 20.00 uur organiseert Pakhuis De Zwijger in samenwerking met Trouw De Duurzame 100 onder de titel ‘Grond van Ons’ een gesprek over de waarde van een gezonde bodem voor burgers.

Zonder gezonde grond, geen gezond voedsel. Op steeds meer plekken staan burgers op om samen grond te kopen en duurzame productie van voedsel door boeren mogelijk te maken. Verschillende initiatieven hebben letterlijk het heft in eigen handen genomen, want de betrokken burgers werken soms mee en brengen de producten rechtstreeks van het erf naar de keuken. In overleg met lokale bewoners en boeren ontstaat een nieuwe sociale gemeenschap. Deze ontwikkeling legt de basis voor de democratisering van de landbouw. De stad en het platteland, de burger en de boer raken weer met elkaar verbonden. De volgende vragen staan centraal in deze bijeenkomst. Zijn deze initiatieven dé oplossing voor verduurzaming onze bodem? Hoe gaan deze initiatieven te werk? Waar komt de toegevoegde waarde van deze initiatieven terecht?

Voor meer informatie over dit evenement of om je aan te melden om hierbij aanwezig te zijn (fysiek of online), ga naar https://wemakethecity.green/programma/grond-van-ons

Een beminnelijke vrouw / An amiable woman – Ans van der Lande-Heij (1942-2021)

Ans van der Lande-Heij

See below for English

Vorige week bereikte ons het droevige bericht van het overlijden van Ans van der Lande-Heij. Ans was van 1983 tot 2007 werkzaam bij de Leerstoelgroep Rurale Sociologie als secretaresse. Naast het reguliere secretariaatswerk voerde Ans ook een groot deel van de werkzaamheden uit die tegenwoordig tot het domein van het adjunct-beheer horen. Voorts verzorgde ze de opmaak van de boekenreeksen “Studies van Landbouw en Platteland” en “European Perspectives on Rural Development” en de organisatie en administratieve afhandeling van de projectbijeenkomsten van de EU-projecten CAMAR en IMPACT. Het leverde haar veel internationale contacten en ook nieuwe vrienden op.

Bovenal was Ans het sociale hart van de leerstoelgroep. Ze stond altijd klaar om (gast) medewerkers en studenten te helpen met vragen en problemen – tot en met het regelen van onderdak voor tijdelijke gastmedewerkers. Ze zorgde ervoor dat we elke ochtend met z’n allen bij haar op het secretariaat koffie dronken (zo rond 10 uur galmde Ans door de gang “Koffie!!”). En jarenlang hebben we als groep, met onze partners en kinderen, een weekend gekampeerd op de camping in Arcen, waar Ans en haar man Cees een stacaravan hadden. Ook dat was, op Ans’ welbekende wijze, altijd uitstekend georganiseerd en voor ons allen een moment om naar uit te zien en nu nog steeds om met veel plezier aan terug te denken.

Ans was vrijwel altijd opgeruimd, vrolijk en beminnelijk. Handen uit de mouwen, dat was haar devies, en problemen waren er om op te lossen. Of ze deed alsof ze er niet waren (ook dat is, in een universitaire bureaucratie, een goede eigenschap). Ze was begiftigd met het vermogen steeds een gezellige sfeer te creëren en steunde de mensen die dat nodig hadden. Een bewonderenswaardige vrouw.

Ans is in 2007 met pensioen gegaan en veel van de (oud) medewerkers hebben na haar pensionering contact gehouden met Ans en Cees. Wij beiden tot op heden. Op de rouwkaart schrijven haar kinderen, hun partners en de (achter)kleinkinderen van Ans: “Denk aan Ans met een lach, een lied of een drankje”. Dat zullen wij zeker doen, maar ook met een traan omdat we haar zeer zullen missen.

Namens de (oud) medewerkers van de Leerstoelgroep Rurale Sociologie,

Jan Douwe van der Ploeg en Han Wiskerke


Last week we received the sad news of the death of Ans van der Lande-Heij. Ans worked as secretary at the Rural Sociology Group from 1983 to 2007. In addition to her regular secretarial duties, Ans performed many of the tasks that nowadays belong to the domain of assistant management. She also took care of the lay-out of the Dutch book series “Studies van Landbouw en Platteland” and the English book series ‘European Perspectives on Rural Development’ and the organization and administration of the project meetings of the EU-projects CAMAR and IMPACT. It brought her many international contacts and also new friends.

Above all, Ans was the social heart of the chair group. She was always ready to help (guest) staff and students with questions and problems – up to and including arranging accommodation for temporary visiting scientists. She made sure that every morning we all drank coffee at her office (around 10 o’clock Ans would echo “Coffee!” through the corridor). And for many years we spent a weekend as a group, with our partners and children, at the campsite in Arcen, where Ans and her husband Cees had a mobile home. That too, in Ans’ well-known way, was always excellently organised and for all of us a moment to look forward to and to remember and cherish until today.

Ans was almost always optimistic, cheerful and amiable. Get to work, that was her motto, and problems were there to be solved. Or she pretended they weren’t there (in a university bureaucracy, that too is a good quality). She was gifted with the ability to always create a friendly atmosphere and supported those who needed it. An admirable woman.

Ans retired in 2007 and many of the (former) employees have kept in touch with Ans and Cees after her retirement. Both of us to this day. On the bereavement card her children, their partners and Ans’s (great) grandchildren wrote: “Remember Ans with a smile, a song or a drink”. We certainly will, but also with a tear as we will dearly miss her.

On behalf of the (former) staff members of the Rural Sociology Group,

Jan Douwe van der Ploeg and Han Wiskerke

Celebrating 75 years of Rural Sociology

The Rural Sociology Group of Wageningen University will celebrate its 75th Anniversary on May 13, 2022 with a public event entitled “Rural Sociology: past, present and future”.

Venue: Akoesticum, Nieuwe Kazernelaan 2D42, 6711 JC Ede, The Netherlands (registration has closed).

For more information: ruralsociology2022@gmail.com

At the event we will reflect upon the history of rural sociology and discuss future challenges in a lively and interactive setting.

Program

08.30 – Registration and coffee/thee

09.00 – Opening by Arthur Mol (Rector Magnificus of Wageningen University)

09.30 – Keynote Han Wiskerke
Meaningful diversity: Past, present and future of rural   sociology

10.00 – Keynote Haroon Akram-Lodhi
From peasant studies to critical agrarian studies

10.45 – Break

11.00 – Rural Talk Show – Interactive session including invited guests and audience participation. The Talk Show is chaired by Matt Reed, with Jan Douwe van der Ploeg as a permanent table guest, and changing table guests around the following three themes:
– Societal engagement or academic distance; with Jessica Duncan, Aya Kimura, Han Wiskerke
– Discussing the rural-urban dichotomy;
 with Henk Oostindie, Sally Shortall, Esther Veen
– A continuing debate: agency and structure; 
with Bettina Bock, Bram Büscher, and Mark Vicol

12.15 – Closure morning session

12.30 – Lunch

14.00 – Workshops

15.30 – Keynote Hannah Wittman
Bridging rural and urban through agroecological networks: cultivating agrarian citizenship in a climate crisis

16.30 – Imagining the next 25 years of rural sociology. Interactive session around three research agenda’s, briefly pitched by RSO staff, followed by an open floor exchange of ideas and discussion:
– Agriculture – introduction Kees Jansen
– Place – introduction Joost Jongerden
– Food – introduction Jessica Duncan

18.00 – Closure, drinks and conference diner

Keynote speakers:

Haroon Akram-Lodhi – ‘From peasant studies to critical agrarian studies
Haroon Akram Lodhi is Professor of Economics and International Development Studies at Trent University, Canada. His research interest is in the political economy of agrarian change, the future of smallholder peasant communities in the world food system, on the sustainability of rural social structures, relations and institutions, and gender and rights based economics. https://sites.google.com/site/aharoonakramlodhi/home

Arthur Mol – Opening
Arthur Mol was trained in environmental sciences (MSc) and environmental social sciences (PhD). Besides being Chair and Professor of Environmental Policy at Wageningen University he was also Professor of Environmental Policy at Renmin University, China, at Tsinghua University, China, and at the National University of Malaysia UKM. He was joint editor of the journal Environmental Politics, and is book series editor of New Horizons in Environmental Politics. His main fields of interest and publications are in environmental studies, globalization, social theory and the environment, informational governance, ecological modernization, China, sustainable (food) production and consumption and urban environmental governance. Currently, he is Rector Magnificus and Vice-President of the Executive Board of Wageningen University & Research and president of the Association of European Life Science Universities (ICA). https://www.wur.nl/en/Persons/Arthur-prof.dr.ir.-APJ-Arthur-Mol.htm

Hannah Wittman – ‘Bridging rural and urban through agroecological networks: cultivating agrarian citizenship in a climate crisis
Hannah Wittman is Professor Land and Food Systems at the University of British Columbia in Canada. Her research examines the ways that the rights to produce and consume food are contested and transformed through struggles for agrarian reform, food sovereignty, and agrarian citizenship. Her projects include community-based research on farmland access, transition to organic agriculture, and seed sovereignty in British Columbia, agroecological transition and the role of institutional procurement in the transition to food sovereignty in Ecuador and Brazil, and the role that urban agriculture and farm-to-school nutrition initiatives play in food literacy education. http://ires.ubc.ca/person/hannah-wittman/

Han Wiskerke – ‘Meaningful diversity: past, present and future of rural sociology’
Han Wiskerke is Professor of Rural Sociology and Chair of the Rural Sociology Group at Wageningen University since 2004. From January 2013 until June 2016 he was also  Professor of Foodscape Studies and Design at the Academy of Architecture (Amsterdam University of the Arts). His main research themes during the past 15 years have been a) agrarian and rural development, b) city-region food systems and c) urban-rural relations. He was founding editor-in-chief of Urban Agriculture and Regional Food Systems from 2014 – 2018 and (co-)editor of books on agrarian & rural transitions, food planning, foodscape studies & design, urban agriculture, and sustainable & regenerative food systems. https://www.wur.nl/nl/personen/han-prof.dr.ir.-jsc-han-wiskerke.htm

Participants in the Rural Talk Show session and the Imagining the next 25 years of rural sociology session:

Bettina Bock is Professor for Inclusive Rural Development at the Rural Sociology Chairgroup at Wageningen University and Professor for Population Decline and Quality of Life at Groningen University. Her areas of research include inclusive rural development and social innovation, with a particular focus on remote and depopulating rural areas, governance, migration and rural gender relations. From 2013-2019 she was the editor-in-chief of Sociologia Ruralis. In addition, she is a board members of the European Society for Rural Sociology and the International Rural Sociology Association. She has been invited as guest professor at the Università di Gastronomia in Pollenza in 2020), Cornell University in the United States (2019), Kyoto University (2018) and Newcastle University (2017). https://www.wur.nl/nl/personen/bettina-prof.dr.ir.-bb-bettina-bock.htm

Bram Büscher is Professor and Chair of the Sociology of Development and Change group at Wageningen University. He holds visiting positions at the Department of Geography, Environmental Management and Energy Studies of the University of Johannesburg and the Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology of Stellenbosch University, in South Africa. His research interests revolve around the political economy of conservation and development, the politics of energy and extraction, ecotourism, new media and social theory. More info at www.brambuscher.com

Jessica Duncan is Associate Professor in the Politics of Sustainable Food Systems in the Rural Sociology Group at Wageningen University, is a researcher and educator committed to social justice. Jessica is widely recognised for her expertise on the politics of sustainable food system transition. She is a founding member of the Centre for Unusual Collaborations (CUCo) and sits on the editorial board of Sociologia Ruralis. https://www.wur.nl/nl/personen/jessica-dr.-jab-jessica-duncan.htm

Kees Jansen is an Associate Professor in the Rural Sociology Group at Wageningen University. His work connects the fields of political ecology, critical agrarian studies and international development. His current research focusses on pesticide risk governance and social movements concerned about pesticides. More info at www.keesjansen.eu

Joost Jongerden is an Associate Professor in the Rural Sociology Group at Wageningen University. His research on ‘Do-It-Yourself Development’ aims to identify the possibilities of alternative futures grounded in peoples’ daily practices and present struggles. His geographical focus is Kurdistan and Turkey. He holds a position as professor at the Asian Platform for Global Sustainability and Transcultural Studies, Kyoto University, Japan, and has been a visiting professor at Toronto University in 2018. In 2012 he was a founding member of the journal Kurdish Studies, of which he was an editor until 2020. In 2021 he founded the journal Commentaries. He is a board member of the European Union Turkey Civic Commission. https://wur.academia.edu/JoostJongerden

Aya H. Kimura – professor of sociology at the University of  Hawai`i-Manoa. Her research analyzes the intersections of technoscience, gender, and  sustainability. She has had research projects in Indonesia, Japan, and Hawai`i, and has written on agrobiodiversity, fermentation, food safety, nutrition science and the idea of “smart food.”  Among others, she examines diverse practical experiences with citizen science on a range of food and farming issues, from seed development to toxicants to biodiversity. https://ayakimura.weebly.com/

Henk Oostindie – Senior Researcher in the Rural Sociology Group at Wageningen University. He has a longstanding experience in researching the socio-economic aspects of rural development, including topics as farming styles, multifunctional agrarian pathways, food chain dynamics, multi-level rural governance and rural-urban interdepencies. A significant part of his empirically grounded research interests took place within comparative analysis and policy oriented European projects.

Jan Douwe van der Ploeg – Emeritus Professor and the former Chair of the Rural Sociology Group in Wageningen. In his position as Professor of Rural Sociology, he elaborated the inquiry into the expressions, implications and underlying mechanisms of heterogeneity in agriculture. He was also closely involved in some of the grass root initiatives that aimed at developing (practical) new alternatives to the reigning model of ongoing scale-increase and further industrialization of agriculture and rural development. http://www.jandouwevanderploeg.com/EN/

Matt Reed – Associate Professor in Food Citizenship and director of the Countryside and Community Research Institute (CCRI) at the University of Gloucestershire (UK). He is a sociologist with research interests in how and why social change takes place around food. His research rests upon the intersections of political sociology, cultural studies and rural geography. http://www.ccri.ac.uk/reed/

Sally Shortall – Duke of Northumberland Professor of Rural Economy at the Centre for Rural Economy, Newcastle University (UK). Her research interest is in rural sociology, community studies, rural development and rural proofing, agriculture, farm families. She is specifically known for her work on gender and agriculture. https://www.ncl.ac.uk/cre/about/staff/profile/sallyshortall.html#background

Esther Veen worked as an Assistant Professor at the Rural Sociology Group of Wageningen University until 2021. She taught courses on urban food, food and identity, foodscapes and alternative food networks, and studied urban food initiatives, urban food growing and the effects of green on health and wellbeing. She is currently lector (reader) Urban Food Issues at Aeres University of Applied Sciences Almere, working closely with research institute Flevo Campus. She studies how food routines change and normalise, and how the urban environment can stimulate healthier and more sustainable food patterns. She is specifically interested in the interplay between the food environment and everyday routines around shopping, cooking and eating. She also focuses on the role of urban agriculture in the urban food system. 
https://www.aereshogeschool.nl/onderzoek/lectoren-en-onderzoekers/esther-veen

Mark Vicol is Assistant Professor of Agrarian Sociology in the Rural Sociology Group at Wageningen University. My research focuses on the intersections between rural livelihoods, agricultural development and agrarian change in South and Southeast Asia. I explore integrative approaches to understanding patterns of change at the intersections of micro-scale rural livelihoods and the macro-scale political-economic structures and social relations that underpin global capitalism. Specifically, I am interested in the changing relationships between land, agriculture, rural livelihoods and inequality; the livelihood implications for rural households of modern agricultural global value chains, and the politics of value chain development; and broader political economy questions about patterns of agrarian accumulation and differentiation and the future of small farmers and agriculture in the region.
https://www.wur.nl/en/Persons/Mark-dr.-MR-Mark-Vicol.htm

Venue: Akoesticum, Nieuwe Kazernelaan 2D42, 6711 JC Ede, The Netherlands.

Akoesticum

Saving the world – Cultivating the city: Invitation to the 14th Weihenstephan forum (21 & 22 October 2021)

How food production in the city contributes to a sustainable future

21 & 22 October, 2021 [Hybrid Event]

The industrialization of our global food system and growing urbanization not only exacerbate the effects of climate change and accelerate the loss of biodiversity, but also significantly cause the spatial and mental decoupling of food production and consumption.

Against the backdrop of the associated socio-ecological challenges, a “renaissance” of various forms of urban agriculture can be observed worldwide over the last decade, accompanied by the emergence of new multifunctional productive ecosystems in urban spaces. Especially in the Global North, the manifold forms and different dimensions of urban agriculture increasingly show potentials how negative effects along the food value chain can be reduced and how ecological, economic and social added values can be created.

The 14th Weihenstephan Symposium will therefore revolve around a provocative question:

“Urban agriculture – A trend phenomenon or transformative element for the development of resilient cities and food systems?”

To explore this controversial question, the professorship for Urban Productive Ecosystems at Technical University of Munich invites practitioners from science, business, politics and civil society to debate their expertise and experience in the form of keynote speeches and subsequent discussion. Different forms and aspects of urban production – their limits and potentials – will be critically examined and their practical potential discussed from ecological, social and economic points of view.

We invite you to participate in the forum and discuss with us – participation is open to the interested public.

Registration & Participation

Due to the current Covid-19 related regulations, the event will take place hybrid, i.e., with a limited number of participants at TUM Campus Weihenstephan in Freising (Konferenzsaal iGZW, 3G rules apply) and the possibility to participate in the full program via Zoom. Please note that registration for on-site participation is required by October 18 to allow for planning the logistics and catering according to Covid rules. All admitted registrants will receive final information and the access link for Zoom closer to the event. The event will be held partly in German (GER) and partly in English (ENG) with no simultaneous translation. It is open to all and is free of charge.

Registration for participation in presence or in digital form for both event days: https://wiki.tum.de/display/WeiFo21Reg/Registrierung+-+Weihenstephaner+Forum+2021

If you have any questions, please contact stefanie.burger@tum.de.

75th Anniversary: 32) 100 PhD graduates

The 75th anniversary of the Rural Sociology Group also marks another milestone: 100 completed and successfully defended PhD theses. The first PhD graduate was Jan Doorenbos, who successfully defended his PhD thesis entitled ‘Opheusden als boomteeltcentrum‘ (Opheusden as tree-growing centre) on 14 June 1950. His PhD study was supervised by Prof. E.W. Hofstee. The 100th PhD graduate was Lucie Sovová, who successfully defended her PhD thesis entitled ‘Grow, share or buy? Understanding the diverse economies of urban gardeners‘ on 13 October 2020. Her PhD study was supervised by Dr. Esther Veen, Dr. Petr Jehlicka and myself. Below the covers of the 1st and 100th PhD thesis.

In this blog about 100 PhD graduates in 75 years Rural Sociology at Wageningen University, I want to present and reflect on some trends related to these 100 PhD graduates. In another forthcoming blog I will present and reflect on some trends related to the content and focus of these 100 PhD theses.

Trend 1: from less than 1 to close to 4 PhD graduates per year

The 100 PhD theses that were completed in the last 75 years are not evenly distributed over the years, as the figure below shows. In the first 50 years 23 PhD theses were completed, meaning that the average number of PhD graduations was below 1 per year (with no PhD graduations at all in the years 1966-1970 and 1986-1990). This increased to approximately 2 per year in the 1996-2005 period and to almost 4 per year in the last 15 years. There are multiple reasons for this. First, until the 1980s having a PhD degree was not that important for an academic career as it is now. When I did my Masters in Wageningen in the late 1980s and early 1990s a large part of the courses I took were taught by assistant, associate and even full professors without a PhD degree. Nowadays, having a PhD degree is a prerequisite for an academic career. Second, in the early 1980s the Dutch government introduced the so-called ‘Two-phase structure’ for university education, with the second phase referring to a 4 year PhD program. The ambition was that 20% of the MSc graduates would continue with a PhD, and as a result universities created more PhD positions (which were then called assistant-in-training or researcher-in-training positions). Alongside, tenured staff without a PhD degree was also encouraged to write a PhD thesis. While these two reasons may explain the increase from the early 1990s onwards, they do not explain the relative high numbers in the last 15 years, with an average of 3 to 4 PhD graduations per year. These figures are a result of: a) the growth of externally funded research projects in which (part of) the research was/is carried out by PhD students; b) the acquisition of specific PhD programs with multiple PhD projects (NWO-WOTRO, INREF, and EU Marie Curie Training Networks); c) the internationalization of our PhD community (more about this below) with a growing number of PhD scholarships funded by NUFFIC and national governments in Asia (mainly China) and Latin-America. In addition, there has been an internal push for more PhD students due to PhD supervision criteria for RSO staff in Tenure Track. And last but not least, the PhD graduation allowance that we get from the national government (currently approximately € 60,000 per PhD graduate) also implies that there is a financial incentive to have a steady and preferable high inflow of PhD students and outflow of PhD graduates.

Trend 2: The average age at which a PhD degree is obtained remains the same (but becomes more diverse)

The average age at which a PhD degree is obtained has remained fairly stable over the past 75 years (just below 40 in 1950 and just above 40 in 2020), but has become more diverse in recent decades (ranging from 27 to 76 years). When making this overview I had actually expected that the average age at PhD graduation would have shown a downward trend as I assumed that the role of the PhD thesis had changed from someone’s life’s work (a middle- to end-career achievement) to a first stepping stone (an early-career achievement) in an academic career. The latter certainly holds true for a large group that obtained their PhD degree at the age of 35 or younger. However, among the PhD graduates of the last 20 years, the PhD degree has also been an important mid-career stepping stone. Many, in particular international, PhD graduates, who got their PhD degree at the age of 40 to 50, have moved up to senior academic or management positions. And throughout the years we’ve had PhD candidates that embarked on their PhD study more towards the end of their career or even after retirement (with two obtaining their PhD degree at the age of 76). For this relatively small group the PhD thesis has remained a life’s work.

Trend 3: From men only to more gender balance

One aspect that has really changed over the past 75 years is the male/female ratio of PhD graduates. In the past 75 years we’ve had twice as many male graduates as female graduates, as the figure below shows.

However, this 2:1 male-female ratio has not been like that over the past 75 years. In the first 55 years the vast majority of PhD graduates were men (32 men versus 2 women), and this changed considerably in the last 20 years (34 men versus 32 women), as the figure below shows. It clearly reflects the changing male-female ratio of BSc and MSc students at Wageningen University (and most likely also at many other universities in and outside the Netherlands). And this also has had an impact on the gender balance within the current academic staff at the Rural Sociology Group.

Trend 4: From mainly Dutch to ‘all over the world’

Over the past 75 years the PhD community at the Rural Sociology Group has really become international. Although there were a few non-Dutch PhD graduates in the early years, in recent years PhD students come from all over the world: other European countries, Latin America, Africa and Asia (see figures below: Europe refers to all European countries excluding the Netherlands). A large number of the PhD projects of these international PhD students are projects jointly supervised with staff members of the Sociology of Development and Change group, which traditionally has a strong network in Latin America and Africa. The former chair of Rural Sociology, Jan Douwe van der Ploeg, also has a large international network, in particular in Italy, several Latin American countries and China, and this has clearly contributed to the inflow of PhD students from these parts of the world. The aforementioned growing importance of external research funding and international PhD scholarships has also contributed to the internationalization of our PhD community. I also assumed that the international focus and status of Wageningen University, with all its MSc and part of its BSc programs taught in English, would have contributed to the internationalization of our PhD community. However, hardly any of our international PhD students has an MSc degree from Wageningen University.

In addition to looking at the countries/regions where our PhD graduates come from, I have also made a figure of where they are currently residing/working or where they were residing when they retired. This basically shows that the vast majority of PhD graduates is residing/working in the country/region where they originate from. Some have moved to other countries and a few of the international PhD graduates have stayed in the Netherlands.

Trend 5: From government official to academic/researcher

A last topic related to 100 Rural Sociology PhD graduates I want to present is their current or last (in case of retirement) sector of employment. Is a PhD degree really a stepping stone for an academic or research career or does it result in careers in a variety of sectors? This has been summarized in the figure below, which shows that many of the PhD graduates in the early years continued their career in government. To be fair, many of those PhD graduates actually had a government job and were given the time and space to do their PhD research while keeping their job as government official and continued as a government official after obtaining their PhD degree. Since the 1990s the PhD degree seems to have been favorable for a career in academia/higher education or at a research institute. Many of our international PhD graduates now have tenured positions at foreign universities as assistant, associate or full professor or as senior scientist or senior manager at a research institute. Some are self-employed as advisors/consultants and a few ended up working for a NGO or in the private sector (in or related to agriculture or elsewhere). But as the primary aim of our PhD program is to train PhD students to become independent researchers/academics, it is great to see that so many do indeed succeed in building a career in (academic) research (and higher education).

Why I support Alarm Day and the call for a 1.1 billion Euro structural investment in academic research and education

Today, Tuesday April 6 2021, is ‘Alarm Day’; a day on which the teaching and research staff, students, administrators and alumni of all 14 Dutch research universities will be congregating to call on the new government to structurally invest 1.1 billion euros in academic research and education. Since 2000 student numbers have doubled, while government funding per student has decreased by 25%. In addition research funding has not kept up with the growth in student numbers and increasingly has to be obtained via competitive research grant applications. Hence, there is a structural lack of time and financial means for high-quality research and high-quality teaching. As a result of underfunding, students no longer receive the education they deserve, while teaching and research staff are struggling to cope. So on Alarm Day we address this situation and propose to work towards a Normal Academic Standard. For more information, please check https://normaalacademischpeil.nl/ (or https://normaalacademischpeil.nl/english for the English version).

One of the activities the organizers of the Alarm Day ask us to undertake is to share our personal stories. That is what I will do in this blog, thereby also expressing my support for today’s Alarm Day and the call for a structural investment in university research and education.

Why I support Alarm Day and the call for a 1.1 billion Euro structural investment

I was appointed as Chair and Professor of Rural Sociology at Wageningen University in November 2004. Within our university system, being chair means that you are responsible for the financial situation of your chair group. Due to the way the funding of education has been organized at Wageningen University, our education income does largely keep up with growing student numbers. However, the downside is that there is hardly any funding for research. Annually our chair group gets approximately k€ 330 basic university funding (formally labelled as research funding), yet our costs for accommodation, materials, travel and overheads are equal to or exceed that, hence there is no funding for research. So to make sure that the annual operating result of my group is not negative, there are basically two options: we only teach (and make sure that the revenues from teaching plus basic funding cover the salary costs and other costs) or we obtain external funding for research (including PhD projects). We have continuously focused on the latter option (also because the first option de facto means that the key characteristic of academic education, i.e. the link between research and teaching, ceases to exist) and have been quite successful at that, BUT:

  • Over the years grant schemes have become increasingly competitive, and thus our success rate has gradually declined from approximately 50% 10-15 years ago to less than 25% at present (while the quality, based on evaluation scores, has only improved). This means that an increasing share of our research time is spent on writing proposals that do not get funded.
  • A lot of the grant writing has to be done in the evenings, weekends and holidays, simply because a) a 40 hour working week is not enough to do everything I need or am expected to do, and b) most deadlines for submitting proposals are just after the Christmas and summer holidays.
  • Due to the continuous financial pressure of obtaining external research funding I am almost permanently busy with grant writing and actually do not have enough time for the projects I did manage to get funded. And the time I have available is largely spent on project coordination, not on research;
  • A lot of our research projects are funded by the European Commission. In the EC’s framework programs (e.g. Horizon 2020, Horizon Europe) we see a gradual shift in funding focus from understanding problems and challenges to developing and implementing solutions, in other words from research to innovation and (societal) impact. Funding for curiosity driven and risky research has to come from personal grants (ERC, VENI/VIDI/VICI) or grants for training networks (e.g. Marie Curie Training Networks), and these schemes are even more competitive (with success rates between 2 and 10%).
  • Until recently I was ‘promotor’ (main supervisor) of >25 PhD projects and it is simply impossible to be sufficiently involved in all. Most of the supervision is done by daily supervisors (assistant and associate professors), who all do a great job at this, but for me PhD supervision was way more interesting when I only had a few PhD students. Yet, for financial reasons it is important that within our group we have 4 to 5 PhD graduations per year. Therefore we still have 25 to 30 PhD students, but as a few colleagues have ius promovendi (the right to award a PhD) I no longer have to be the promotor of all. So this helps to reduce my workload a bit, but doesn’t change the perverse incentive that a steady inflow and outflow of PhD students is important for financial reasons.

Will 1.1 billion Euro of structural funding solve all problems?

Unfortunately the answer is ‘no’. It will certainly help to reduce the reliance on external research funding and reduce work pressure if we can appoint more staff members who can carry out their teaching and research tasks and activities within their work week. But we also need to address a few other issues:

  • In addition to this structural investment a large share of the research funding that is now distributed via competitive grant schemes (NWO and EU for example) should go directly to academic staff: so less time wasted on proposals that do not get funded, less work pressure and more funded time for curiosity driven research;
  • A new recognition and reward system that once and for all gets rid of the publish or perish culture (or generally speaking the output performance culture) that has dominated academia in the last 25 years. Especially the current publication and PhD supervision criteria that our Tenure Trackers need to comply with only contribute to more publications and more PhD students to be supervised.
  • The time and energy consuming bureaucracy that we need to work in and which is largely based on institutionalized distrust, as if endless procedures, evaluation rubrics, assessment forms, and checks and balances will help us to become better lecturers and researchers.
  • Related to that is the time that we are spending on writing self-evaluation reports (and to that we add mid-term self-evaluation reports) for peer review committees (peer reviews of our BSc and MSc programs or of our research program). Don’t get me wrong, I really value getting feedback from peers if we can also honestly and openly share our struggles and challenges and then get constructive feedback on how to do things better. However what we are actually asked to do is to write marketing brochures to boast about our excellence, so that university management can show to the outside world how many ‘top programs’ and ‘world leading’ research units it has. And this also means that a negative evaluation (which is basically anything below ‘excellent’) will haunt you until the next peer review.

What have I decided to do to reduce my work pressure?

In addition to keep on addressing the structural causes of work pressure I have decided to do the following:

  • I will not write any project proposal until the current Horizon 2020 project I am coordinating is finished and I have the time and energy to write a new proposal;
  • I will no longer write research grants for financial reasons, but only because I want to (for curiosity reasons, because it allows me to hire PhD candidates and/or postdocs, because it enables me to collaborate with colleagues in other countries, et cetera).
  • I will not accept new PhD students until the number I am responsible has dropped below 10 and that will remain the maximum number.
  • I will publish less and review no more than two papers per paper I have submitted as (co-)author (and review no more than 3 research proposals per proposal I have submitted for review).

I realize that I am in a privileged position (permanent contract, no Tenure Track criteria to comply with and chair of a group that does really well in teaching and research) to take these decisions, but hopefully it is seen as leading by example.

Landbouwbedrijven hebben steeds meer bronnen van inkomsten

Steeds meer agrarische bedrijven halen hun inkomen uit andere dan pure landbouwactiviteiten. Slechts een derde van de Nederlandse agrarische bedrijven legt zich toe op de primaire productie van bijvoorbeeld melk of varkensvlees en richt zich op de wereldmarkt. Zij proberen tegen zo laag mogelijke kosten te produceren. De overige bedrijven hanteren een veelzijdiger strategie om inkomsten te genereren.

Dat blijkt uit een enquête-onderzoek naar bedrijfsstrategie en toekomstperspectief van uitgeverij Agrio en de leerstoelgroep Rurale Sociologie van Wageningen University & Research. De enquête die deze zomer werd gehouden onder ruim 1200 agrarische bedrijven laat een aanzienlijke verbreding van inkomstenbronnen zien ten opzichte van het laatste grootschalig onderzoek midden jaren negentig naar bedrijfsstrategieën in de landbouw. In 1995 combineerde 22% van de bedrijven landbouw met andere bedrijfsactiviteiten, nu is dat 50%.

Agrarische bedrijven hanteren diverse strategieën om inkomen uit hun activiteiten te genereren. De meest oorspronkelijke route is die van de primaire productie van akkerbouwgewassen, zoals tarwe, en veeteelt, met melk, vlees of eieren als producten. In de afgelopen decennia hebben agrariërs naast akkerbouw en veehouderij ook andere inkomstenbronnen gegenereerd. Tegenwoordig is er een heel scala aan activiteiten zoals agro-toerisme, agrarisch natuurbeheer, een zorgboerderij en activiteiten die geen specifieke agrarische link hebben, zoals energieproductie met zonnepanelen of windmolens. Puur en alleen landbouwproductie komt nog maar bij de helft van de bedrijven voor, terwijl dat in 1995 nog op 78% van de bedrijven het geval was.

Han Wiskerke, hoogleraar Rurale sociologie aan Wageningen University & Research, die het onderzoek begeleidde, noemt de toegenomen diversiteit van strategieën binnen de landbouw onderbelicht. „Het beeld in de media werd het afgelopen jaar vooral gedomineerd door de stroming die zich richt op specialisatie en schaalvergroting. Uit ons onderzoek blijkt dit slechts één van de vele stromingen te zijn.”

Arbeidsmarkt gunstig voor extra activiteiten

De bedrijven die zich richten op verbreding en toegevoegde waarde (zoals eigen productverwerking), genereren opmerkelijk meer arbeid. Daarmee leveren ze een bijdrage aan de werkgelegenheid en de leefbaarheid van het platteland. Volgens Wiskerke zou het goed zijn als overheden zich bewust zijn van het feit dat bepaalde vormen van landbouwontwikkeling ook veel werkgelegenheid creëren. „Ik heb de indruk dat beleid gericht op het behouden en creëren van werkgelegenheid op het platteland zich niet op landbouw maar op andere economische sectoren richt.” Wiskerke plaatst daarbij wel een kanttekening. “De activiteiten die potentieel veel werkgelegenheid creëren doen zich vooral voor nabij steden en in toeristische gebieden (met name langs de kust), omdat daar nu eenmaal de meeste mensen wonen of recreëren en daar dus de meeste consumenten en afnemers van die boerendiensten te vinden zijn.”

Ontevreden over inkomen uit landbouw

Uit het onderzoek blijkt dat boeren die zich richten op specialisatie en productie voor de wereldmarkt op veel fronten afwijken ten opzichte van boeren met een andere strategie. Dat neemt niet weg dat voor alle boeren geldt dat ze ontevreden zijn over de inkomsten uit agrarische activiteiten. Bijna de helft is erg ontevreden of behoorlijk ontevreden. Het minst tevreden over het inkomen uit de landbouw zijn boeren met een bedrijfsstrategie waarbij zij zgn. groenblauwe diensten leveren, zoals beheer van sloten, en verbreding, zoals zorglandbouw of agrotoerisme. Daarentegen zijn deze boeren wel het meest tevreden over hun bedrijfsinkomen. Maar ook voor de boeren die zich richten op specialisatie en productie voor de wereldmarkt is het moeilijk om met alleen landbouw rond te komen, constateert prof. Wiskerke. “Puur van landbouw rondkomen is moeilijk.”

Veranderende regelgeving als belemmering

Als grootste belemmering voor bedrijfsontwikkeling staat bij alle bedrijfsstrategieën met stip op één: steeds veranderende regelgeving. 63 procent van de deelnemers kruiste dit aan. Agrariërs hebben behoefte aan een duidelijke langjarige overheidsvisie. “Daarop kunnen zij hun bedrijfsstrategie, waarbij vaak investeringen gemoeid zijn, inrichten,” licht prof. Wiskerke toe.

Kwart van gezinsinkomen afhankelijk van landbouw

Uit het onderzoek blijkt dat van alle bedrijven in de enquête slechts een kwart voor het gezinsinkomen volledig afhankelijk is van de landbouw. Bij de overige 75 procent bestaat het gezinsinkomen uit landbouw plus andere bedrijfsactiviteiten, een baan buiten het bedrijf of een combinatie daarvan. “Dat kan een teken van bittere noodzaak zijn, omdat ondernemers het met alleen landbouw financieel niet redden”, zegt prof. Wiskerke. “Maar het kan ook een uiting zijn van veranderende opvattingen over wat goed of toekomstbestendig agrarisch ondernemerschap is.” Tien jaar geleden gaf 72 procent van de ondernemers van multifunctionele bedrijven aan dat direct contact met burgers en consumenten de belangrijkste drijfveer was voor verbreding. Ook financiële risicospreiding werd toen door de helft genoemd. “En het kan ook een teken zijn van een verdere emancipatie van de boerin / vrouw van de boer, waarbij de nadruk ligt op een eigen carrière en inkomen buiten het bedrijf of een eigen bedrijfsactiviteit voortkomend uit eigen expertise en interesse. Het zijn toch overwegend vrouwen, veelal met werkervaring buiten de landbouw, die de drijvende kracht zijn achter verbredingsactiviteiten.”

Verantwoording onderzoek

Het onderzoek naar agrarische bedrijfsontwikkeling is een initiatief van uitgeverij Agrio en is in samenwerking met de leerstoelgroep Rurale Sociologie van Wageningen University & Research opgezet. Eind juli en begin augustus voerde marktonderzoeksbureau Geelen Consultancy het onderzoek digitaal uit. Aan het onderzoek namen ruim 1200 boeren deel. Het aandeel biologische boeren (6 procent) en veebedrijven is licht oververtegenwoordigd en tuinbouwbedrijven zijn juist ondervertegenwoordigd.

Bron

Persbericht Wageningen University & Research, nr 101, 30 oktober 2020

Zie ook: Veehouders willen stikstofruimte inleveren