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

75th Anniversary: 45) E.W. Hofstee and ‘Modern Environmentalism’ at WUR

Gert Spaargaren[i] (with illustrations by Emily Liang)

Modern Environmentalism’

Environmental problems are of all ages, but in historical perspective one could argue that the awareness that something can and must be done about the deterioration of soils, water and air quality is of rather recent origin. In his book on ‘modern environmentalism’, David Pepper (1984, 1996)[ii] identified three landmark publications that expounded the principle ideas of ‘modern environmentalism’ as emerging from the 1970s onward.

First and most important has been the ‘Limits to Growth’ report to the Club of Rome (Meadows et al, 1972)[iii]. With hindsight, this MIT[iv]-based modelling of the planetary limits to industrial societies must be regarded as the single most important trigger for environmentalism to become a permanent issue both for politicians and citizens around the world. It was ‘modern’ environmentalism since the report was science based and because it urged key actors in society to take their responsibility for a common future at risk. Secondly, the ‘Blueprint for Survival’ (Ecologist, 1973), a special issue of a journal published by the emerging environmental social movements in the UK, has been an important trigger. The ‘new social movements’ in the UK and Germany in particular aimed at translating the  Club of Rome message to the local (UK; EU) situation. They did so by translating the call for ‘limits to growth’ into a design for a strictly closed loops oriented, local, de-central, bounded network of eco-communities, sharing and caring for natural resources in a way we would later on come to refer to as ‘sustainable’ or ‘circular’. To underpin their design of the Blueprint Society with socio-cultural, economic and political arguments, they heavily relied on the third major source of modern environmentalism: Fritz Schumachers’  ‘Small is Beautiful’ book series (Schumacher, 1973; 1979)[v]. Schumacher was an enlightened British economist who resigned from a leading position in the energy (coal) sector to dedicate the rest of his life to the promotion of a radically different kind of society. His books became popular around the world and in the late 1980s, Schumacher himself came over to Wageningen to address a lecture hall[vi] filled with eager and critical students to discuss his core idea that recognizing limits to growth should lead one to consider new, small-scale, local, size-limited forms of (agro)industrial production and consumption from now on.

Three publications with a different character – one scientific modeling report, one NGO-article and one popular book series for a broad audience – but on a similar topic: the ‘environmental future of modern industrial societies’. From a contemporary point of view, they were positioned more on the sideline of society, were more Eurocentric, and  did not confront climate and biodiversity issues in ways we are familiar with today. But the idea of radical change, the framing of the planet as resource for future generations, and the sense of urgency and unconventional forms of action I would argue to be pretty much the same. It is the engagement with transitions and transformation as we know of them today, but at the background you should imagine the sound of the pop-music of the second half of the 1960s (Dylan, the Beatles, folk-music) and pictures of student revolts and the rise of the so-called counter-culture in the 1970’s.

E.W. Hofstee and ‘Modern Environmentalism’ at WUR in the 1980s

When I started my academic career in Wageningen in the late 1970s, all ‘engaged students’ were more or less familiar with the wake-up call that was represented by the three publications introduced in the above. So were staff members and even some professors…. Evert Willem Hofstee (1909 – 1987) being one of them.

Professor Hofstee was a social scientist who very early on recognized the urgency of environmental problems and the fact that the future of modern societies would be affected by problems of (air, water, soil) pollution and the exhaustion of resources. As early as mid-1971, he drafted an advisory Report for the Dutch Royal Academy of Science Committee on the task for social sciences to confront “Milieubederf en Milieubeheersing als maatschappelijke verschijnselen” (environmental deterioration and environmental control as societal phenomena)[vii]. During the period of redrafting this advisory report, the Club of Rome Report was published, and Hofstee in his preface to the final version of his KNAW report noticed that one of the remarkable characteristics of the Club of Rome report was the fact that it “hardly mentions the social scientific aspects of the environmental problem” (Hofstee, 1972, preface).  

Hofstee himself was in a position to do something about that. He was a respected professor in (rural) sociology at the Landbouw Hogeschool (the predecessor of WUR) and one of the driving forces behind the construction of the  Leeuwenborch-building as an anchor point for the social sciences. Hofstee was an empirical sociologist, raised in the tradition of demography and sociography e.g. historically informed, applied and policy relevant social science research. I was told that Hofstee was standing member of more than 150 committees and advisory boards that were involved in the socio-spatial redesign of the Netherlands after the second World War. So he knew ‘from within’ that policy makers were confronted with all kinds of expected and not expected negative consequences of the accelerating modernization process as it was happening in rural and urban spaces in the Netherlands and in Europe at the time. Hofstee noticed as well that in the Netherlands ecological/environmental issues were not eagerly taken up and given any serious theoretical or empirical consideration by sociologists. Only Nico Nelissen in Nijmegen and Egbert Tellegen – in collaboration with Peter Ester and later on with Maarten Wolsink-  in Amsterdam were publishing on ecological issues. Nelissen was building on the ecological sociology of the Chicago school in the USA, while Tellegen and colleagues depicted environment and energy as new societal issues, thereby providing  support for the new social movements without much theorizing. In his theoretical work however also Hofstee himself did not pay much attention to environmental issues. His (three volumes) reader we as students were instructed to read, was titled “Differentiële Sociologie” (Sociology of Differentiation) and it did not consider the modernization process from an environmental point of view. Wageningen sociology was first and for all agrarian, rural sociology, focusing on the differential adoption of modern ideas (on religion, family life etc.) and (life)styles – interior design, diets, styles of farming –  by different segments of the population in different parts of the Netherlands.[viii]

Sociology, Environment and Modernization at WUR after Hofstee

Because Hofstee was aware of the need for environmental sociology and because he was still leading the ‘vakgroep sociologie van de Westerse Gebieden’, it was decided that someone in Wageningen should be appointed as ‘environmental sociologists’  to confront the challenges put forward by the Club of Rome and the emerging  Environmental/Energy movements  in the Netherlands and Europe. Henry Hilhorst –  specialized in the sociology of religion – was asked to take environmental issues on board. He tried to make a start with a course in  environmental sociology in 1985, building upon the study of Hofstee (1972) on ‘Environmental Deterioration and Control’. Along the way however, he discovered that his heart was not in environmental sociology and the ‘material matters’ (flows of energy, water, waste, nitrogen, phosphate) associated with it. Henry left for a job in the sociology of religion in Utrecht, and in 1986 I was assigned the task of developing for the (chair)group ‘Sociologie van de Westerse Gebieden”  a Wageningen relevant version of environmental sociology[ix].

Since the course had to start right away and I only just took office as staff member, a guest lecturer from the USA was attracted to join me/guide me in giving the first course on ‘environmental sociology’/milieu-sociologie in Wageningen. Rabel Burdge came over to stay with me for a month, telling the students about ‘social’ (SIA) next to  ‘environmental’ impact assessments (EIA) as happening in the USA. He used the classes to discuss with the students his survey results of SIA-studies, but as well for sharing his family holidays pictures of lake Michigan and the natural beauty it represented…..The students liked his American style, his story telling and his holiday pictures in particular.  I was however not convinced that impact assessment would be the (restricted empirical) way forward for environmental sociology at Wageningen University. I used the first years to reflect on the society-nature interactions from a sociological perspective, using social ecology as well as ‘eco’- neo-Marxism as sources of inspiration.

In the years to follow, a team of environmental sociologists was build. Kris van Koppen and Arthur Mol became close colleagues, and the first PhDs were attracted to build not just a relevant theory but to develop at the same time a body of empirical knowledge on Environmental Deterioration and Control. Ecological Modernization, with an emphasis on the environmental damage stemming from material flows running through socio/ecological systems, was the general heading of this theoretical and empirical work. It resulted from a critical confrontation with ‘small-is-beautiful’ (romantic?) thinking as the dominant paradigm in the grassroot environmental NGOs in Germany in particular. Instead of de-modernization, we argued that the environmental side effects of simple modernization should be dealt with by redesigning/reforming the agro-industrial structures of production and consumption. Enlightenment thinking versus Romantic thinking; Europeanization and Globalization versus localization; market dynamics next to policy dynamics etc. The debate on ‘how to green modern societies’ had begun.

The number of students and staff members were (gradually) growing.  In the meantime other social science groups in the Leeuwenborch started with research and specialized courses on  environmental topics. Next to economics, also history, law, extension sciences and spatial planning developed their own portfolios in the environmental field, with their activities being coordinated in the context of the so called Leeuwenborch Milieu Overleg (LMO).

By the end of 1990s, it was decided that the environmental sociology section of the Western Sociology Group should become a separate group, including not just sociologists but political scientists and cultural geography scholars as well. The Environmental Policy Group (ENP) – from 2000 onwards headed by Arthur Mol and since 2015 in good hands of Simon Bush – became one of the leading groups both within WUR and in the national and international social science (RC-24 of the ISA) arena’s. The excellent reputation of the ENP-group is based on characteristics that I would argue to go well along with Hofstee’s worldview, and they run as follows. First, look at differentiation (now at different regions of the global network society in particular). Second, combine innovative theoretical work always with sound empirical research. Third, try to investigate why social groups at different levels of society do or do not want to engage themselves with processes of change for a more sustainable world in the future. The present ENP-work on energy/water/sanitation transitions in different continents, and on global (fish) food system transformations can be regarded as adequate responses to Hofstee’s wake up call for the environmental social sciences in the 1970s.  Their education and research are examples of social science knowledges that help shape the ‘great transition’ towards a more ecological sound, reflexive, and global modernity.    

[i] I would like to thank Anton Schuurman for his useful comments on the draft version of the present text

[ii] D.Pepper (1984) The Roots of Modern Environmentalism. London, Croom Helm

[iii] The Limits to Growth (1972) D.H. Meadows et al. Potomac Associates.

[iv] MIT = Massachusetts Institute of Technology

[v] E.F. Schumacher (1973) Small is Beautiful. London, Blond and Briggs; E.F. Schumacher (1979) Good Work. New York.  Harpers & Row

[vi] The big lecture-hall of the Leeuwenborch building was named the ‘Hofstee-room’ at the time, but unfortunately this name is no longer in use to refer to the main lecture hall of the social science building of WUR.

[vii] E.W. Hofstee (1972) Milieubederf en Milieubeheersing als maatschappelijke verschijnselen; poging tot een overzicht van de maatschappij-wetenschappelijke problematiek van een actueel onderwerp. Amsterdam. Noord-Hollandsche Uitgevers Maatschappij

[viii] The concept of differentiation was offered by Hofstee as a critique of ‘generalizing, functionalist’ analyses of modernization as dominant in the USA (Parsons)  at the time. Mainstream drivers have to be specified – so Hofstee argued – in terms of time-space specific trajectories and dynamics

[ix] The chairgroup (at the time named ‘vakgroep’) Sociologie van de Westerse Gebieden already had several thematic sections to organize the empirical work. Next to the dominant rural sociology section, there were section on the sociology of family life, on the sociology of leisure, and on methodology.

75th Anniversary: 43) Een recreatieve tocht door het landschap van de Wageningse sociologie (1985-1995)

Jaap Lengkeek

De naam Hofstee was mij bekend. Iets over sociologie in Wageningen ook. Toen ik mijn afstudeeronderzoek deed in een klein plattelandsdorp in Noord-Holland, Twisk, las ik de studie van de Wageningse socioloog Jaap Groot over de leefbaarheid van een plattelandskern. Verder leerde ik, nadat ik aan de Universiteit van Amsterdam was afgestudeerd in de sociologie van bouwen en wonen, de Vakgroep Wonen van Prof. Van Leeuwen in Wageningen kennen. Desondanks bleef ik lang vrezen dat voorbij Utrecht de werkelijke academische wereld ophield.

Een advertentie voor een coördinator van de Werkgroep Recreatie van de Landbouwhogeschool Wageningen had desondanks mijn aandacht getrokken. Na mijn afstuderen had ik een aantal jaren onderzoek gedaan naar de relatie wonen en welbevinden bij het Instituut voor Preventieve Gezondheidszorg in Leiden. Daarna was ik beland in Den Haag bij een platform van organisaties op het gebied van vrijetijdbesteding, openluchtrecreatie en behoud van een gezonde leefomgeving, genaamd Stichting Recreatie. Daar kwam ik in direct contact met een levendige beleidssector op deze terreinen van de verschillende overheden. Bovendien ondersteunde de stichting een netwerk van onderzoekers aan de Nederlandse en Vlaamse universiteiten. Recreatie en vrije tijd waren belangrijke maatschappelijke thema’s geworden. Ik wilde graag terug naar de universiteit, vandaar dat ik solliciteerde naar de geadverteerde positie in Wageningen.

In Wageningen was openluchtrecreatie als onderzoeksthema nadrukkelijk op de kaart gezet als onderwerp van naoorlogse zorg voor een leefbaar en beleefbaar platteland, dat onder de snelle modernisering onder druk was komen te staan. De aanleg van grote recreatiegebieden in de buurt van en tussen grote steden naar voorbeeld van het Amsterdamse Bos was een substantiële oplossing geworden voor het verdwijnen van ruimtelijke kwaliteit en bruikbaarheid in de naoorlogse nota’s voor de ruimtelijke ordening. Intergemeentelijke samenwerkingsverbanden, de zogeheten Recreatieschappen, dienden zorg te dragen voor uitvoering en beheer. Sociaalgeograaf Theo Beckers was in 1976 aangesteld bij de vakgroep Sociologie van de Westerse Gebieden en had zich beijverd om recreatiegedrag en -beleid op te nemen in het curriculum. Hij schreef in 1983 een prachtig proefschrift waarin het belang van recreatie werd duidelijk gemaakt, als een vorm van vrijheid, en bracht deze vrijheid in verband met de recente geschiedenis van het overheidsbeleid en met een solide theoretische kijk op planning. Bovendien stond hij aan de wieg van een samenwerkingsverband van Wageningse studievelden waarin openluchtrecreatie een aandachtsgebied werd of moest worden, van sociologie, landgebruiksplanning, ecologie, economie, psychologie en landschapsarchitectuur. Het samenwerkingsverband werd wettelijk (Wet Universitaire Bestuurshervorming) verankerd in de Werkgroep Recreatie. Ik kreeg de baan.

Voor de functie was ik ondergebracht als medewerker bij de Vakgroep Sociologie, met een kamer op de Leeuwenborch. Daar trof ik een gezelschap collega’s die onder Hofstee waren aangesteld, Ad Nooy had de leiding ervan, Jelle Lijfering, Berry Lekanne dit Deprez, Iteke Weeda, Rien Munters, en een recente lichting met Jaap Frouws, Gert Spaargaren, Jan-Willem te Kloeze en Henk de Haan. Jaap Groot en gezinssocioloog Gerrit Kooy waren zojuist vertrokken of gingen met pensioen. Mijn herinnering aan die tijd is niet helemaal zuiver meer na zesendertig jaar. Mijn belevenissen bij de vakgroep zullen daarom eclectisch en impressionistisch zijn. Terwijl ik me met medewerkers van verschillende vakgroepen bezighield, bleef mijn kijk op de collega’s van sociologie beperkt. Een helder ijkpunt vormde het hoofd van het secretariaat, Ada Hink. Zij beleed haar trots en trouw aan de groep en aan Hofstee in het bijzonder door mij te vertellen dat ze altijd op haar post zou zijn om Hofstee, als hij graag nog dagelijks in zijn kamer kwam, bijtijds zijn koffie te brengen. Niet duidelijk werd me wie een oudere man was, die ook ergens in een kamer zich door data heen zat te werken. Een assistent van Hofstee of zo iemand?

In de ochtend van mijn eerste werkdag in Wageningen parkeerde ik mijn auto op het parkeerterrein van de Leeuwenborch. Ik was benieuwd naar wat ik daar aan vervoersmiddelen zou aantreffen. De faam van milieuvriendelijkheid van de Landbouwhogeschool was tot mij doorgedrongen en ik vermoedde eenvoudige auto’s aan te treffen, deux-chevauxs, simpele Opels, een bescheiden Renault, of zoiets, en natuurlijk veel fietsen. Ik zelf was sinds kort in het bezit van een zescilinder, zilverkleurige Chevrolet Malibu, met roodlederen banken in plaats van stoelen. Ik verwachtte daarmee een ernstige dissonant te vormen. De auto slurpte benzine, verbruikte liters olie en maakte het geluid van een oceaanstomer. Maar de leden van de Werkgroep Recreatie pasten er precies in. Op weg naar geschikte onderzoeksgebieden reden we door het land en de stemming in de samengepakte wagen was opperbest. De Chevrolet heeft waarschijnlijk mijn beste bijdrage aan teambuilding betekend.

Auto, echtgenote en ik

Helaas moest die al vrij snel worden ingeruild omdat van de zes cilinders bij een scherpe bocht naar rechts er steevast twee uitvielen.

De Landbouwhogeschool werd Landbouwuniversiteit en de vakgroep sociologie trok een nieuwe generatie medewerkers aan. Van de oudere medewerkers was Rien Munters degene die hen vooral theoretisch inspireerde. Hij had zich verdiept in het werk van de Britse socioloog Anthony Giddens, waarvoor hij twee van zijn studenten had weten te enthousiasmeren, Hans Mommaas en Hugo van der Poel. Deze twee hadden zich na afstuderen naar de universiteit van Tilburg gespoed als zendelingen van Giddens, die hun missie daar met succes toepasten op het terrein van de vrijetijdwetenschappen. Na enige tijd, in 1987, volgde Theo Beckers hen naar Tilburg als hoogleraar Vrijetijdswetenschappen. Rien Munters bleef hun goeroe op afstand.

Rien was één van de medewerkers waar ik meer mee optrok. We gingen met enige regelmaat na afloop van het werk samen naar Nol in ’t Bos, om daar een jenevertje te drinken, met bitterballen, waarbij ik hem ook af en toe een klein sigaartje mocht aanreiken.  We spraken weinig over het werk, wel over amusantere onderwerpen. Zo vertelde hij anekdotes over Prof. Den Hollander, die ik als hoogleraar sociologie in Amsterdam had meegemaakt en die zijn studenten grote schrik placht aan te jagen, bijvoorbeeld door namen van de presentielijst op te noemen om de betreffende persoon tijdens het college een spitsvondig antwoord te laten geven. Menig student dook onder de bank. Ook liet hij een studente met gips om haar been uit de collegezaal verwijderen omdat ‘dat been’ hem stoorde. Deze handelwijze is hem bij de grote revolutie van de late jaren zestig duur komen te staan. Tevens memoreerde Rien dat hij ooit in het ziekenhuis was beland nadat hij een boomtak afzaagde waar hij zelf op zat. Over de wonderlijke hallucinaties die hij daarna kreeg raakte hij niet uitgesproken.

Ook met Albert Mok had ik goed contact, die als deeltijdhoogleraar organisatiesociologie was aangetrokken. Ik kende zijn naam van een boek over sociologie, dat hij samen met De Jager had geschreven en dat gewoonlijk werd aangeduid werd als ‘de mokkendejager’. Ikzelf was opgevoed met het boek van Van Doorn en Lammers en later het werk van Norbert Elias. Ik volgde Mok’s colleges en nam er af en toe één voor hem waar. Hij was een liefhebber van jenever. Bij mijn promotie gaf hij me een hele doos met flessen exquise Belgische jenever.

De nieuwste lichting medewerkers bij de vakgroep oriënteerde zich sterk op Jürgen Habermas, die het werk van Max Weber verder had uitgewerkt en actueel gemaakt. Het terrein waarop deze jongere generatie zich begon te bewegen raakte enigszins verwijderd van het agrarische. Milieusociologen werden ze. En, in mijn ogen, met een bewonderenswaardige inzet en begeestering. Ze mengden zich actief in de onderzoekscommissie voor milieuvraagstukken van de International Sociological Association (ISA). Voor een ISA-conferentie stelden ze een ‘marsroute’ op, zo vernam ik,  waar elk van hen naar toe zou gaan om een bijdrage te leveren. Ikzelf nam met meer gemakzucht deel aan de commissies voor vrije tijd en voor toerisme en vond me vergeleken met hen een lapzwans.

Intussen bedreigde het College van Bestuur de studierichting Sociologie met bezuinigingen of zelfs opheffing. Hetzelfde lot trof Landschapsarchitectuur, een succesvolle en in Nederland unieke academische studierichting. Ad Nooy, zo hoorde ik,  stelde voor een deel van zijn leerstoel in te leveren om financiële ruimte te creëren. Hij en hoogleraar landschapsarchitectuur Vroom waren volgens mij integere hoogleraren van het oudere stempel, die hun posities vanzelfsprekend achtten. Geen doordouwers of gewiekste strategen. Landschapsarchitectuur ging op in een gezamenlijke studie met landinrichtingsplanning. Doodzonde. Hoe het met sociologie ging weet ik niet meer. Wel, dat Jan Douwe van der Ploeg als hoogleraar werd aangesteld en hoofd werd van de vakgroep. Hij vatte zijn rol op met veel elan en voortvarendheid, met een sterke visie op agrarische regionale ontwikkeling en met een gedegen netwerk binnen en buiten de universiteit. In een landelijk tijdschrift beschreef hij zijn plannen en merkte op dat er onder de medewerkers, die hij geërfd had,  veel ‘dood hout’ zat, dat nodig weggekapt moest worden om gezonde groei mogelijk te maken. Een mens kan zich vergissen, ook een hoogleraar. Het dode hout dat hij ontwaarde bleek een verzameling wandelende takken te zijn. Wandelende takken leven en eten zo nodig zelfs hun eigen kinderen op. De bedoelde medewerkers, waaronder ik,  zijn later hoogleraar geworden, één zelfs Rector Magnificus. De nieuwe hoogleraar Van der Ploeg was hoe dan ook van zins snel flinke beslissingen te nemen, wat stuitte op argwaan en actief verzet van de milieusociologen. Ze vonden dat, in habermasiaanse termen, niet voldoende ‘communicatief werd gehandeld’. Inmiddels was ik secretaris van de vakgroep en mij werd gevraagd om in het ontstane conflict te bemiddelen. Het is allemaal wel opgelost, al weet ik niet meer hoe.

De recreatiesociologie ontwikkelde zich verder. Aanvankelijk werd veel onderzoek verricht in opdracht van rijks-, provinciale of gemeentelijke overheden naar recreatiegedrag. Theo Beckers entameerde en begeleidde onderzoek naar vrijetijdsgedrag van huisvrouwen in de stedelijke omgeving. Stedelijke recreatie was een hot item. Zelf kon ik een aantal onderzoeken op dat terrein uitzetten en begeleiden.

Bovendien liet ik studenten onderzoek doen naar de provinciale recreatieve ontwikkelingsplannen. In die tijd was er veel geld beschikbaar van de overheid om onderzoek uit te voeren, met een duidelijk praktisch doel. Later ging het onderzoeksgeld naar de DLO-instituten. Aan publiceren in buitenlandse of in landelijke wetenschappelijke tijdschriften werd nauwelijks gedacht. De wetenschappelijke belangstelling ervoor was in Nederland ook niet groot. Zoals Theo Beckers het ongeveer verwoordde ‘de recreatiestudie bewoont geen hoofdvertrek in het gebouw van de alma mater’. Ook internationale tijdschriften van allure verschenen in het buitenland nog maar mondjesmaat. Een eigen reeks publicaties van de werkgroep leek al heel wat. Omdat ik de theoretische invalshoek van sociologen en antropologen in de studies van het toerisme interessant, zo niet als mondiaal verschijnsel interessanter vond dan vrije tijd en recreatie was ik begonnen op mijn kamer werkgroepen sociologie van het toerisme te geven, met vijf alleraardigste en gemotiveerde studenten. Na het vertrek van Theo Beckers werd een bijzondere leerstoel Recreatiekunde ingesteld, waarop sociaalgeograaf Adri Dietvorst werd benoemd. Hij nam de leiding van de Werkgroep Recreatie over en ik bleef als secretaris ervan bij de vakgroep sociologie. Om het aspect toerisme meer gewicht en aandacht te geven werd René van der Duim aangetrokken, die in Tilburg sociologie had gestudeerd, docent was geweest aan het Nederlands Wetenschappelijk Instituut voor Toerisme en Recreatie in Breda en vervolgens mij had opgevolgd bij de Stichting Recreatie. In 1994 promoveerde ik op een studie naar het belang van Recreatie en Toerisme. Eén van mijn paranimfen vond het predicaat van de promotie ‘met lof’, tenslotte een gezonde groente, voor een landbouwuniversiteit wel te verwachten.

De positie van Adri Dietvorst werd geformaliseerd in een gewoon hoogleraarschap. De Werkgroep Recreatie werd een zelfstandige eenheid en gevestigd in gebouw De Hucht, waar ook Planologie, Landgebruiksplanning en Landschapsarchitectuur verbleven. De studie van recreatie en toerisme werd een interdisciplinaire aangelegenheid. Jan-Willem te Kloeze, René van der Duim en ik verhuisden van de Leeuwenborch naar De Hucht. De leeropdracht Recreatiekunde werd Sociaal-ruimtelijke Analyse (veel later veranderd in Cultural Geography). Het vervolg is inmiddels geschiedenis waar met tevredenheid op terug kan worden gekeken. Ik volgde Adri Dietvorst op, met een eigen leerstoelgroep, een masteropleiding Leisure, Tourism and Environment (één van de twee eerste opleidingen in Wageningen volgens het BaMa stelsel) en later nog een gemeenschappelijke Bachelor Tourism, samen met de University of Applied Sciences Breda.

De bakermat van dit alles blijft de vakgroep Sociologie van de Westerse gebieden. Wat ik tastbaar ervan bewaard heb hoort bij de professorale parafernalia. Van de weduwe van professor Kooy kocht ik diens toga en baret. Omdat de toga veel te groot was nam ik ook de toga over van professor van Mourik, emeritus planoloog, die deze weer had gekregen van hoogleraar Bijhouwer, de eerste hoogleraar landschapsarchitectuur. Dat ensemble vertegenwoordigt treffend mijn werkzaamheden in Wageningen, tussen sociologie, planologie en landschapsarchitectuur. De baret van Kooy, met zijn naam nog binnenin, ben ik eerbiedig blijven gebruiken.

75th Anniversary: 42) Renowned Academics teaching in PhD Course Agrarian and Food Citizenship

We are excited to announce that three world-class academics will co-teach in our PhD course on Agrarian and Food Citizenship: Prof. Hannah Wittman, Prof. Aya H. Kimura and Prof. Haroon Akram-Lodhi. For participants in this course this provides a unique opportunity for learning and exchange.

Hannah Wittman is professor 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/

Aya H. Kimura is 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/

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

The course is organized as a one-week intensive discussion seminar.

For more info and registration see: https://www.wur.nl/en/activity/Agrarian-and-Food-Citizenship-3-ECTS.htm

75th Anniversary: 40) Registration open for PhD Course on Agrarian and Food Citizenship

The PhD course Agrarian and Food Citizenship gives participants an opportunity to intensively engage with some of the major debates about the democratization of our agricultural and food practices, so that they can continue to explore and expand these debates in their own research. The main analytical lens to this democratization of agriculture and food practices in this course is that of citizenship. The course is organized as an one-week intensive discussion seminar.

Each session in this course will have its own set of required readings, which include both foundational literature and new research perspectives on agricultural and food citizenship. Completing these readings is necessary for all students to contribute to discussion during the seminar meeting. These readings will require a substantial time commitment outside of the meeting hours, so participants will need to budget time accordingly in order to fully participate in the course.

Click the link below for more information and registration:


75th Anniversary: 37) Pre-announcement: PhD Course Agrarian and Food Citizenship, May 6–13, 2022


We are delighted to announce our PhD course on agrarian and food citizenship. The course gives participants an opportunity to intensively engage with some of the major debates and approaches on the democratization of our agricultural and food systems so that they can continue to explore and expand these in their own research. The course is organized as a one-week intensive discussion seminar in the week of our 75th anniversary celebration

Agrarian and Food Citizenship

Rooted in a shared belief that our agricultural and food system has produced unsustainable social and environmental cleavages, social movements like Via Campesina have called for the right of people to define their agricultural and food practices. At the same time, various initiatives have emerged that bring this principle into practice. Instead of assuming our relationship to agriculture and food to be that of a consumer making individual decisions in the marketplace, these movements and initiatives have focused on how we organize our agriculture and food practices, and how this can be done different. The aim of this course is to investigate the shift away from a consumerist perspective in which we shop our way to a better agricultural and food system (”vote with our fork”) and towards a citizenship perspective based on the right to have a say in, as well as actively shape, our agriculture and food system. Applying a citizenship lens to an understanding of how our agriculture and food system are organized implies a consideration of the power-relations and identities concealed. In addition, is raises the question how to understand “citizenship”? Various scholars (Isin and Nielsen 2008, Wittman 2009, Carolan 2017) have argued that citizenship is not a formal status, and that people establish themselves as citizens by enacting rights. In this course we will consider agrarian an food citizenship from this perspective of “citizenship acts”.

Target Group and Min/Max Number of Participants

This course is intended for students doing a research master, PhDs, postdocs, and staff members who want to expand their engagement with the democratization of our agricultural and food practices and the citizenship approach to this. In order to ensure opportunities for full discussions during the sessions, the minimum number of participants is 10 and the maximum 20.

More information about the instructors in this course and registration will follow soon.


Carolan, M. (2017). No One Eats Alone: Food as a social enterprise. Washington, Island Press.

Isin, E. and G. Nielsen (2008). Acts of Citizenship. London, Zed Books.

Wittman, H. (2009). “Reframing agrarian citizenship: Land, life and power in Brazil.” Journal of Rural Studies(25): 120-130.

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).

75th anniversary: 28) RSO Education: on the value of lectures

Still diving into the archives of Wageningen University Library, I found a pamphlet by Hofstee on the value of lectures written in 1965.  It includes a short argumentation about the value of live lectures and contrast sharply with the current shift to online education. This is the second blog on RSO Education.

In 1965, Hofstee published a pamphlet called Heeft College Lopen Zin? (Is it useful to attend lectures?) in which he discusses the value of old-fashioned lecturing. He starts with the following sentences:

 “Attending lectures is an issue of which its usefulness is doubted upon by students – judging from the many absentees. They are probably not alone in this. It is likely that, from time to time, many academic lecturers too get the feeling that their monologues and discussions with students are of limited value and that it might be wise to let students independently study the syllabus instead” (translated from Hofstee, 1965).

Hofstee wanted to demonstrate the value of lectures by executing a small research on students from the course Introduction to Social Sciences followed by 61 students. This course includes a complete syllabus for students to study. The exam will test their knowledge on the syllabus. In principle, students should thus be able to pass the exam by only studying the syllabus. Consequently, the lectures are to aid the study progress and are not vital to the assessment outcome. But by looking at the relationship between the lecture attendance and the grade, Hofstee concludes that attending lectures is likely to have a positive effect on the grade.

That was 1965. Fast forward to now.

At Wageningen University, the printed out thick syllabi are replaced by digital articles. A course is constructed out of various teaching methods including not only lectures but also group discussions, tutorials, excursion and so on. Academic lecturers, as Hofstee called them, deploy a range of teaching skills and learning styles to capture the attention of students. Each course is evaluated after completion and each year teachers are asked to modify their teaching as they see fit. Yearly innovation funds stimulate teachers to think about new forms of teaching, always seeking to improve the quality of teaching.

Yet, lectures remain an important ingredient in the courses and so are the issues with lecture attendance. Lecture attendance is not just a discussion at the Wageningen University but very much a wider phenomenon. In 2014, Harvard University even went as far as secretly photographing students in lecture halls to study the attendance[1]. Besides this highly criticised experiment, more research has been done on lecture attendance, its presumed benefits and the reasons for not attending (see for example Doggrell, 2020; Fernandez et al, 2008; Horton et al, 2012; Meehan and McCallig, 2019; Poirier, 2017). Interestingly, the academics writing on this issue are not unanimously in favour of Hofstee’s conclusions. On one hand, Horton et al (2012) conclude that the correlation between assessment outcome and lecture attendance is “surprisingly weak”. Lectures can even lead to students’ boredom and decreased motivation (Blouin at al, 2008; Short and Martin, 2011).

On the other hand, academics indicate that lectures have great value. The interpersonal relation between students and lecturer, a demonstrated interest of the lecturer in the subject and the critical dialogue are factors that can make any lecture an inspiration and lecturing transformative. A good lecture makes student think (Poirier, 2017). On top of that, we are now experiencing a period without live lectures. The current COVID-19 pandemic pushed academics towards digital education. The shift to online education made us aware of the value of lecturing, the teaching in front of a classroom, the social element, the chats in the hallway, or the student that lingers after class as she has a few questions left. After a year of online education, students complain about the lack of interaction, the high amounts of screen time and declining motivation. They miss the classroom and probably also miss the lectures. These very current insights can lead to a revival of the live lectures on campus and, as Hofstee states:

…reinforce the feeling of usefulness among lecturers and stimulate students to honour us with their presence.” (translated from Hofstee, 1965)


Doggrell, S. A. (2020). No apparent association between lecture attendance or accessing lecture recordings and academic outcomes in a medical laboratory science course. BMC medical education, 20(1), 1-12.

Fernandes, L., Maley, M., & Cruickshank, C. (2008). The impact of online lecture recordings on learning outcomes in pharmacology. J Int Assoc Med Sci Educ18(2), 62-70.

Hofstee, E. W. (1965). Heeft college-lopen zin?.

Horton, D. M., Wiederman, S. D., & Saint, D. A. (2012). Assessment outcome is weakly correlated with lecture attendance: influence of learning style and use of alternative materials. Advances in physiology education36(2), 108-115.

Meehan, M., & McCallig, J. (2019). Effects on learning of time spent by university students attending lectures and/or watching online videos. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning35(2), 283-293.

Poirier, T. I. (2017). Is lecturing obsolete? Advocating for high value transformative lecturing. American journal of pharmaceutical education81(5).