75th Anniversary: 46) Research at Rural Sociology: The everyday political economy of rural livelihoods in South and Southeast Asia

Mark Vicol

How do rural people make their livelihoods? What determines who prospers and who is left behind? How should we study and understand rural development and agrarian change? These questions are core to critical development studies of Global South countries with significant rural populations. The answers, however, often reflect deeply held ontological and epistemological differences and assumptions about what counts and what doesn’t (or what’s important and what isn’t) in the analysis of rural development. Despite parallel developments in social theory in recent decades to bridge these divides (e.g. Elder-Vass 2010), approaches to rural development in low-income countries tend to fall in one of two camps: those that emphasize structure; and those that privilege agency. Although there are exceptions that integrate across analytical approaches, two exemplars of this agency/structure divide in development studies are actor-oriented livelihoods analysis, and agrarian political economy. Each has been critiqued and often dismissed by the other for what they don’t do: livelihood or actor-oriented approaches critique agrarian political economists on grounds of determinism and for discounting the diversity of practices and actors at the micro level; while agrarian political economy dismisses livelihoods research for its failure to account for broader relations of power, production, reproduction and property. Both approaches also imply rather different outcomes for policy or praxis: the former focuses on increasing autonomy and individual choice; the latter focuses on the role of the state and/or class-based political movements.

According to Scoones (2015: 37), this debate is summarized by the question “what is more important: what people actually do or the factors that constrain or enable their actions?” This question has animated my research on small farming, rural development and agrarian change in South and Southeast Asia over the last decade. My research shows that not only, as Scoones notes, is the answer to this question quite obviously neither, but also that we can consider both livelihoods (agency) and political economy (structure) simultaneously in studies of rural development. The shortcomings of each approach correctly identified by the other should not be taken as further encouragement to retreat into theoretical or methodological fortresses. Instead, I argue it is possible to productively combine the contextual richness of livelihood approaches with the structural insights of agrarian political economy (Scoones, 2015). By moving beyond an agency/structure dualism in critical development studies, we can pay attention to both at the same time as part of the same process. Put differently, livelihoods are central to understanding agrarian change, and vice versa. We can therefore begin to ask questions such as what does it mean to be a poor or rich rural household? What do the livelihood pathways of different social groups look like? How do livelihood practices produce, reproduce or challenge patterns and processes of differentiation in rural areas? And, how do broader patterns of structural change in turn act back upon livelihoods?

In fact, the rationale for combining the insights of agrarian political economy and rural livelihood analysis can be read as coming from Marx himself. In the Grundrisse (1973), Marx argues that to arrive at a concrete understanding of historical change, one must dialectically move in from the abstract towards the “many determinations and relations” that make up the whole, what Marx called the “unity of the diverse”. The core questions that inform contemporary agrarian political economy (Who owns what? Who does what? Who gets what? What do they do with it? See Bernstein, 2010) are also inherently questions about livelihoods. The idea of a combined approach that asks these questions at multiple scales is that on the one hand, a deep understanding of rural livelihoods can unpack the complexity of everyday practices, whereas political economy can make concrete the ways in which social relations at various scales shape livelihood practices and trajectories and ultimately determine patterns of winners and losers in rural spaces. I have used such an approach, what I call the everyday political economy of livelihoods, to try and understand the multiple determinations of agrarian change and the everyday experiences of such change in smallholder farming communities in India, Myanmar and Indonesia (see Vicol, 2017; Vicol, Pritchard & Htay, 2018; Vicol et al. 2018; Vicol, 2019; Vicol & Pritchard 2021).

In India, this approach was applied to explore the implications of contract farming for household livelihood trajectories and broader patterns of agrarian change. In a case study of potato contract farming in three villages in Maharashtra, a wealth ranking exercise, along with household interviews, was used to construct local understandings of differentiation (Vicol, 2017; 2019). Participants in each village constructed three ‘wealth groups’ of best off, middle and lower households, with each category associated with particular landholding patterns, income sources, balance of on- versus off-farm livelihood activities, use of wage labour, and caste. Dominant narratives around contract farming typically conceptualize it as either ‘win-win’ (for farmers and agribusiness) or ‘win-lose’ (agribusiness wins, farmers lose). My research showed that a) participation in contract farming was concentrated in the ‘middle’ group of households; and b) that rather than sparking dynamic new processes of accumulation among contract farmers or leading to new forms of exploitation, contract farming is contributing to processes of agrarian change already under way. More specifically, participation in contract farming tended to reproduce the middling livelihood trajectories of middle households, while best off households concentrate on non-farm activities for their accumulation strategies (engaging in what Gillian Hart has called ‘diversification for accumulation’). These findings challenge existing policy narratives centered around ‘value chain development’ interventions such as contract farming that promote a simplified vision of ‘market-led’ agricultural development and agrarian change.

My research in India and elsewhere demonstrates that processes of rural development and agrarian change can’t be reduced to simplified narratives. Instead, it is the complex interplay of everyday livelihood practices and social and economic structures that shape patterns of winners and losers in agrarian spaces. To paraphrase Marx (1852; see also de Haan and Zoomers, 2005), what an everyday political economy of livelihoods reveals is that rural people in the Global South do make their own livelihoods, but not necessarily under conditions of their own choosing.

References

Bernstein, H. (2010). Class dynamics of agrarian change. Halifax, Nova Scotia: Fernwood.

de Haan, L., & Zoomers, A. (2005). Exploring the frontier of livelihoods research. Development and Change, 36(1), 27–47.

Elder-Vass, D. (2010). The causal power of social structures. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Marx, K. (1852/2008). The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. New York: Cosimo.

Marx, K. (1973). Grundrisse. London: Penguin.

Scoones, I. (2015). Sustainable livelihoods and rural development. Rugby, United Kingdom: Practical Action.

Vicol, M. (2017). Is contract farming an inclusive alternative to land grabbing? The case of potato contract farming in Maharashtra, India. Geoforum, 85, 157-166.

Vicol, M. (2019). Potatoes, petty commodity producers and livelihoods: Contract farming and agrarian change in Maharashtra, India. Journal of Agrarian Change, 19(1), 135-161.

Vicol, M., Pritchard, B., & Htay, Y. (2018). Rethinking the role of agriculture as a driver of social and economic transformation in Southeast Asia’s upland regions: The view from Chin State, Myanmar. Land Use Policy, 72, 451-460.

Vicol, M., Neilson, J., Hartatri, D.F.S., & Cooper, P. (2018). Upgrading for whom? Relationship coffee, value chain interventions and rural development in Indonesia, World Development, 110, 26-37.

Vicol, M. & Pritchard, B. (2021). Rethinking rural development in Myanmar’s Ayeyarwady Delta through a historical food regimes frame. Singapore Journal of Tropical Geography, 42, 264-283.

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.

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: 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

Ongemakkelijk/Uncomfortable

Afgelopen vrijdag was het zover. Medewerkers van de WUR verwijderde de tentoonstelling “Power of the Wasted” van de buitenexpositieruimte op de Wageningse campus. Dit na bezwaren tegen de tentoonstelling van de United Community of African Students (UCAS).  De foto’s, op billboard formaat geëxposeerd, lieten de veerkracht zien van mensen die werken in de informele afvalindustrie in Ghana. Ze waren gemaakt door Jurrian Veldhuizen, een Wageningse alumnus International Development Studies. De foto’s waren een bijproduct van zijn master-thesis onderzoek naar afvalverwerking in Kumasi, na Accra in omvang de tweede stad in Ghana. Echter, de tentoonstelling geeft volgens de Gemeenschap van Afrikaanse Studenten een verkeerd beeld. De studenten spreken van een linguïstische en culturele misrepresentatie van de mensen die op de dump werken, en er zou niet zijn geweekt met “informed consent”.

Photograph: Jurrian Veldhuizen

UCAS meent dat het gebruik van de term “scavenger denigrerend is naar de informele afvalverwerkers. Nu betekent het woord “to scavenge” zoveel als het verwijderen van afval. “Scavenger” verwijst naar een persoon die op zoek is naar afval dat kan worden hergebruikt, een veel gebruikte term in de academische literatuur. Belangrijker nog, voor de mensen die het afval recyclen op de dump in Kumasi is “scavenger” als een geuzennaam. En dat matched met de foto’s, die waardigheid en kracht uitstralen. Niet voor niets heet de tentoonstelling “Power of the Wasted”. Het laat de kracht zien van degenen die zijn gemarginaliseerd. Aan de rand van de samenleving leven en overleven zij.

De “scavengers” werken met afval – producten waar wij afstand van nemen, omdat ze geen waarde meer voor ons vertegenwoordigen. Eenmaal aangekomen op de dump, is het afval uit zicht, en zo hebben we dat graag. In haar ondertussen klassieke werk “Purity and Danger”, maakte de antropologe Mary Douglas[1] duidelijk dat wat wij afval noemen een categorie van dingen en producten omvat, maar ook mensen, die zijn afgewezen. Deze horen niet (meer) thuis in de wereld zoals we die voor ons zien, en daarom ontdoen we ons hiervan. En hier zitten twee ongemakkelijke dimensies van de tentoonstelling.  

Ten eerste laten de foto’s van Jurrian Veldhuizen duidelijk zien dat ons afval, eenmaal uit zicht, dus niet verdwenen is, maar een tweede leven tegemoet gaat. Dit afval wordt weer tot waarde gemaakt, maar onder zware en ongezonde omstandigheden. Kennelijk houden we die werkelijkheid liever uit beeld. Ten tweede, maakt de tentoonstelling de mensen zichtbaar achter het afval – mensen waar in de regel op wordt neergekeken. Geïdentificeerd met het afval zelf, staan ze voor datgene dat uit zicht moet blijven. Kennelijk roept het zien van deze wereld aversie op, en willen we het weren uit ons gezichtsveld in plaats van kritisch te reflecteren op de omstandigheden die deze wereld mogelijk maken. Een thema dat ook aan bod komt in ons zogenoemde “Bauman vak” (Sociology in Development”, SDC-32806). 

De nu verwijderde tentoonstelling laat dus deze ongemakkelijke wereld van het afval zien. Jurrian Veldhuizen kwam in deze wereld terecht door de producten te volgen waar wij ons van ontdoen. Na het eerste contact gelegd te hebben, begon Veldhuizen zelf als “scavenger” te werken op de dump. De foto’s die hij maakte toont mensen in hun kracht, zonder oordeel en vooroordeel jegens hen. Het laat ons de moeilijke omstandigheden zien waaronder ons afval wordt gerecycled, en de waardigheid in de mensen die hier werken. Met het, als is het tijdelijk, weghalen van de tentoonstelling wordt die ongemakkelijke werkelijkheid dus weer onzichtbaar gemaakt. Wellicht voelt dat comfortabel voor ons, voor degenen die het goed hebben en het afval in grote hoeveelheden produceren, en de gemarginaliseerde kant van de samenleving liever niet zien.  

In het bericht van Resource over het verwijderen van de tentoonstelling, zien we dat een foto met daarop een jongeman van een bilboard wordt verwijderd. Weggehaald, omdat hij en zijn mede “scavengers” gezien worden als een negatieve culturele representatie. Dat zegt dan ook weer meer over de tegenstanders van de tentoonstelling, dan over de foto’s en de mensen die daarop zijn geportretteerd.  Het, ook al is het tijdelijk, verwijderen van deze tentoonstelling geeft het verkeerde signaal af.

Oh ja, en had ik al gezegd dat de tentoonstelling in nauwe samenwerking met de “scavengers”  tot stand is gekomen? 

Uncomfortable

Last Friday was the day. WUR staff removed the “Power of the Wasted” exhibition from the outdoor exhibition space on the Wageningen campus. This followed objections to the exhibition from the United Community of African Students (UCAS). The photographs, exhibited in billboard format, showed the resilience of people working in the informal waste industry in Ghana and were made by Jurrian Veldhuizen, a Wageningen alumnus of International Development Studies. The photographs were a by-product of his master thesis, for which he studied waste management in Kumasi, after Accra the second largest city in Ghana. According to the community of African students, the exhibition gave an incorrect cultural and linguistic representation of Africa and the people who work at the dump. They also claim that the participants in the exhibition did not give their “informed consent”.

UCAS believed that the designation “scavenger” is derogatory to informal waste pickers. Now the word “to scavenge” means as much as to remove waste. “Scavenger” refers to someone who is looking for waste that can be reused, a term commonly used in academic literature. More important, the people who recycle garbage at the dump in Kumasi use the name “scavenger” with dignity. And that matched the photographs, which exude this dignity and power of the “scavengers”. After all, the exhibition is named “Power of the Wasted” for a reason. It shows the power of those who have been marginalized, living and surviving at the fringes of society.

The “scavengers” work with waste – products that we have distanced ourselves from because they no longer represent value to us. Once arrived at the dump, the waste is out of sight, and that’s how we like it to be. In her now classic work “Purity and Danger,” anthropologist Mary Douglas made it clear that what we call waste includes a category of things and products, but also people, that have been rejected. And this brings us to two uncomfortable dimensions of the exhibition.

First, Jurrian Veldhuizen’s photographs clearly show that our waste, once out of sight, is not gone, but gets a second life. This waste is made into value again, but under harsh and unhealthy conditions. Apparently we prefer to keep this reality out of sight. Second, and relatedly, the exhibition makes visible the people behind the waste – people who are generally looked down upon. Identified with the waste itself, they represent that which should be kept out of sight. Apparently, we are more comfortable with removing this reality out of sight than with questioning the political and economic conditions by which these conditions are produced. A theme also addressed in our so-called “Bauman course” (Sociology in Development, SDC-32806). 

The exhibition brought the uncomfortable world of waste in front of our eyes. Jurrian Veldhuizen entered this world by following the products we dispose ourselves of. After making contact with those working there, Veldhuizen began to work as a “scavenger” at the dump. The photographs he took show the resilience of people working at the dump, without judgment and prejudice towards these people. It shows us the difficult conditions under which our waste is recycled. So with the, even if temporary, removal of the exhibition, that uncomfortable reality is made invisible again. Perhaps that feels comfortable to us, to those who are well off and produce the waste in large quantities, and would rather not be confronted with this reality at the margins of the world we made. 

In Resource’s post about the removal of the exhibition, we see that a photograph showing a young man is removed from the billboard. Removed because he and his fellow “scavengers” are seen as dirty, and as a negative cultural representation. Then again, that says more about the opponents of the exhibition, than it does about the photographs and the people portrayed. Removing this exhibition, even temporarily, clearly gives the wrong message. 

Oh yes, and did I mention already that the exhibition was created in close cooperation with the “scavengers” themselves? 


[1] Douglas, Mary. (2003). Purity and danger: An analysis of concepts of pollution and taboo. Routledge

75th Anniversary: 41) Trapped!

By Paul Swagemakers, Department of Applied Economics, Public Economics and Political Economy, Complutense University of Madrid

A long time ago, in the 1990s, a friend of mine told me he was going to Wageningen to check out what one could study there. Forestry was among his interests. I came along with him and Wageningen sparked my interest too, as I saw numerous possibilities. I chose a course in rural development studies. I initially intended to follow it just for one year only, thinking it would widen my scope, and teach me about the world’s cultures and economic development, before I would decide what to do and study next.

Once started, I was trapped. I learned to analyse rural development issues: I choose a trajectory that taught me how the study of the heterogeneous social configurations and functional relationships between ‘man’ and nature could help combat rural marginalisation and spirals of economic decline and to identify and help develop departure points for sustainable rural development. I learned how pride and collective ideals among rural dwellers shaped their farming practices and how these were embedded in the wider institutional context of markets and policies. I learned that these external factors are often perceived as the drivers for economic development and that this often brought externalised costs. In the classes I learnt about a, now very well-known, example that illustrated this: to sustain the Dutch animal husbandry, a surface many times that of the Netherlands was (and still is) in use for feed production, including former tropical rain forests now used for soy bean production. Apart from realizing that these forests were lost, I asked myself what happened to the people who used to live in, and from, these former rain forests? And I asked myself what can Dutch farmers do to become less dependent on external inputs, and reduce their negative impact on nature elsewhere? At that time in Wageningen, I learned how neo-liberal economic theory advocates reducing the role of government and policies, and sees markets as the most efficient way to regulate supply and demand and to optimise the allocation of resources. I also learned that the revenues, split up in chunks of value added in the food chain, are highly unequally distributed among the participants in the value chain. I was taught about some innovative governance mechanisms that were emerging in those years, called environmental cooperatives. I wondered what I could learn from the farmers in this movement, and got a job helping analyse how new social configurations and relationships could result in the protection and conservation of the environment, studying the dynamics at the farm level in relation to support from markets and policies.

Over the years I learned how many farmers value and manage their land and herd in ways that differ from the dictums of economic theory that teach one to maximise production and minimise costs, and how many of them attempt to gain a living from what otherwise would often be abandoned because of lack of investment and respect: our environment. I also learned that many values produced at farms are poorly valorised in the food chain.

Triggered by this continuous manifestation of abandonment and disrespect, I continue to study where best to invest, and what to respect. This path has led me to a PhD in Social Sciences at Wageningen University, to several lecturing and researching posts at the University of Vigo, and, currently, to a position as assistant professor at the School of Political Sciences and Sociology of the Complutense University of Madrid. So much for just a year’s study! I am afraid, I am permanently trapped.

Related publications:

Swagemakers, P., Schermer, M., Domínguez García, M.D., Milone, M., Ventura, F. 2021. To what extent do brands contribute to sustainability transition in agricultural production practices? Lessons from three European case studies. Ecological Economics 189: 107197, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecolecon.2021.107179

Swagemakers, P., Domínguez García, M.D., Milone, P., Ventura, F., Wiskerke, J.S.C. 2019. Exploring cooperative place-based approaches to restorative agriculture. Journal of Rural Studies 68: 191-199, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jrurstud.2018.12.003

Swagemakers, P., Domínguez García, M.D.., Torres, A., Oostindie, H., Groot, J.C.J. 2017. A values-based approach to exploring synergies between livestock farming and landscape conservation in Galicia (Spain). Sustainability 9 (11): 1987, https://doi.org/10.3390/su9111987

Swagemakers, P., Wiskerke, J.S.C., 2011. Revitalizing ecological capital. Danish Journal of Geography 111 (2): 149-167, https://doi.org/10.1080/00167223.2011.10669530

Swagemakers, P., Wiskerke, J.S.C., Van der Ploeg, J.D., 2009. Linking birds, fields and farmers. Journal of Environmental Management 90: 185-192, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jenvman.2008.11.020

75th Anniversary: 39) Protesting Farmers

In our previous blog, we wrote that to understand the overall evolution of farmer protests around the nitrogen crisis, Jaap Frouws’ doctoral dissertation Mest en Macht (Manure and Power, 1994) is highly relevant.  Among others, his work provides a an important entry point into the history and the crisis of farmers’ representation and cooptation in agricultural policies in the Netherlands.  

Master student Emil Dutour Geerling delved into this question of representation in his recently defended thesis on the contemporary farmers’ protests. At the time Jaap Frouws did his important work on the politics of the manure crisis in the 1990s, the first cracks had become visible in the bulwark of farmers’ representation. Today, almost three decades later, the landscape of representation has changed dramatically. The long-time alliance between national farmers organizations, political parties and the ministry of agriculture, has become history.  Feeling under- or not-represented, and, importantly, not heard, discontented farmers established a defense force. This Farmers Defense Force was able to mobilize thousands of farmers, who were prepared to take a more confrontational approach, blocking highways and retail distribution centers, and converged on provincial government buildings.

In his work, Dutour-Geerling explains the form the protests take from the crisis in representation. Yet, he explains the cause of these protests in terms of a crisis of accumulation.  Many of the protesting farmers have built their business strategy on the idea of continuous growth, yet the new nitrogen and phosphate regulations make this business strategy untenable.

This crisis of representation and crisis of accumulation creates a ‘biographical disruption’: the future that farmers perceived for themselves and their farms is not feasible anymore. This asks for a reconsideration of their idea of farming, and their self-perception as farmers. Changing their farming strategy is, if possible at all, costly; the rethinking of their farmers’ identity painful. This explains the fierceness of the protests.

Emil Dutour Geerling. 2021. Understanding the Dutch protesting farmer: A politically informed actor-oriented research into the perceptions of Dutch protesting farmers, Master Thesis Rural Sociology in partial fulfilment of the degree of Master of Science in International Development Studies at Wageningen University, the Netherlands

CONVIVIALITY all-virtual conference rescheduled to October 4-10, 2021

Join us to explore predicaments of agriculture, biodiversity, and conservation with a focus on CONVIVIALITY –where plants, animals, and humans attempt to live and thrive together.

The all-virtual, open-access, asynchronous conference will take place the week of October 4-10, 2021, featuring 6 keynote interventions, research presentations, and commentary from scholars, indigenous practitioners, and farmers from around the world.

In a time of pandemic, climate change, and unprecedented demands on our time and attention, the asynchronous, virtual format means that your engagement can be as flexible and intense as you can accommodate at this time. Attendees are asked to watch presentations on demand, and engage with written comments — although audio and visual interventions are possible as well.

For more information, see https://perc.ac.nz/wordpress/conviviality/

75th Anniversary: 38) Rereading Jaap Frouws’ Mest en macht (Manure and Power) in 2021

Kees Jansen

While writing the first sentences of this blog (7 July 2021), more than hundred tractors of angry farmers drive through the lawns of the campus of Wageningen University as one of many farmer protests against proposed Dutch government policies to reduce nitrogen emissions in agriculture. A farmer spokesman states that this university is an extension of the Ministry of Agriculture (LNV): Wageningen university is writing reports on request of the government against the interests of farmers and it is just suborned to defend environmentalist positions. Farmer protests on the campus grounds are something new as far as I know, but not farmer protests against restrictive environmental policies.

To understand the overall evolution of farmer protests around the nitrogen crisis, Jaap Frouws’ doctoral dissertation Mest en macht (Manure and Power) (1994) about the politics of the manure crisis in the Netherlands is highly relevant. Three reasons inspired me to write here about this academic work on agrarian corporatism written two and a half decades ago. First, when I was a master student Jaap Frouws provided an example that academics can be intellectually inspiring and accessible, kind, and humble at the same time. I consider him as an important figure in the 75 year history of the Rural Sociology group and his untimely death has been a great loss for Wageningen rural sociology. Second, Mest en macht provides a key entry point into the history of farmers’ representation in the conflict between agricultural and environmental demands and after three decades it has lost nothing of its urgency. Finally, Frouw’s pioneering work has become a point of reference for later researchers on manure narratives, such as Marian Stuiver’s PhD thesis (2008) and Janne Hemminki’s  recent master thesis (2021) on the current nitrogen crisis. But not everybody reads Dutch, so this blog hopes to draw the attention of English readers to Frouw’s classic Dutch text. One may not be able to read it but could become interested in reading some of Frouws’ articles derived from it.

The main theme in Mest en macht is the nature and decay of agrarian neo-corporatism represented by the Board of Agriculture (Landbouwschap) in the Netherlands. Founded in 1954, the Board of Agriculture―composed of representatives of the three major farmer unions and the labour union of agricultural workers―represented the interests of the whole agricultural sector as a public law organization. Interesting is how Frouws analyses how the state constructed the organization of farmer representation, rejecting to negotiate with an amalgam of different representative bodies and deciding to negotiate and collaborate with one composite organization only. Through this horizontal union model the farmer organizations as a whole became co-responsible for government policy. For several decades this structure would incorporate and reduce the autonomy of vertical product-based, specialized associations. Frouws analyses how this neo-corporatism was structured through a set of resources and rules that resulted in a strong cooperation between state and representative organizations. The representational monopoly was strengthened through providing early information about planned policies to the Board of Agriculture and giving it privileged influence. The strong involvement of farmer organizations via the Board of Agriculture provided legitimacy to government policies as the Board was functional in disciplining the farmer organizations’ constituencies.

Environmental crises, however, have increasingly affected this representational model. One key problem has been the excessive amount of manure produced by the livestock sector which could not all be incorporated into soils due to new environmental regulation. The key argument of Mest en macht is that the growing ‘manure problem’ created or deepened rifts in the so-called ‘Green Front’. It was increasingly difficult for corporatism to keep divergent interests under political control. For example,  views of farmer organizations in the North of the Netherlands clashed with those from the South. Farmers in the North had relatively more space to apply to the field their manure whereas the South had more manure surplus regions. Consequently, they had divergent views on the use of duties (to be paid to handle the manure surpluses) for, for example, transport subsidies. Such differences in interests led repeatedly to political confrontations and consequently to obstruction of policy consensus regarding the amplitude and pace of manure policies, the distribution of financial contributions to transporting and processing manure surpluses, and the regulations on buying and selling manure ‘quotas’. Within the state, policy formulation in this domain became less dominated by the Ministry of Agriculture which for a long time simply had organized and defended farmer demands through delegating policy formulation to the Board of Agriculture. Other voices speaking for environmental interests and, for example, members of parliament, gradually became less excluded from policy formulation around the manure crisis.

Frouws does not perceive this decay of agrarian neo-corporatism as a single monocausal unidirectional process. Instead, via an exhaustive empirical study of interview data, minutes of meetings, a survey of farmers’ perception of representation, and participant observation in meetings, Frouws describes the many twist and turns, and tensions, deadlocks and contradictions over time.  He reveals many examples of an effective lobby by livestock interest groups to soften or delay restrictive policies. Hence, while on the one hand the neo-corporatist policy-making community could not resolve the manure crisis and its political control of the issue lessened, farmer activism resulted on the other hand in delaying strategies and obstruction of policy formulation to address the manure crisis. Crucial questions regarding the restructuring the livestock sector were pushed aside in favour of maintaining the competitiveness and the export capacity of livestock production, thus precluding any discussion of reducing its volume.

Reading the empirical details of these confrontations, delays, and obstructions as presented by Frouws―with an emphasis on what happened in the 1980s―leaves the impression not of Manure and Power (Mest en macht) but of Manure and Powerlessness (Mest en onmacht). The issue of manure surplus was not resolved, the state was not able to envision proposals for restructuring of the livestock sector, and farmer representation fragmented. While Frouws did not predict anything about the future of the Board of Agriculture, the pivot of agrarian neo-corporatism in the Netherlands at that time, he rightly observed its decay. Not so long after his dissertation was published, the Board would be dissolved and the representation of farmer interests shifted to a more diffused model driven by specialized, product-based farmers’ associations.

Mest and macht is most important for what it offers in terms of empirical data, the analysis of neo-corporatism, and a political sociology of agriculture. The thesis centralizes the political sociology of representation whereby the technicalities of the manure problem are relegated to an appendix. Today with all the talk about assemblages or hybrids, nature/technology-society interaction would likely get a more pronounced treatment in a thesis. Instead, Mest en macht offers a middle range sociological theory about agrarian neo-corporatism and it is Frouws’ history of manure policies which provides us with interesting questions of how to look at the contemporary political upheaval which made farmers invading Wageningen University’s campus.

Similar dynamics as described by Frouws shape the current episode of the manure/N-emission crisis. The farmer protests in 2019, initiated by relatively small farmer activist groups, resulted in a momentary new Green Front, when the government negotiated about nitrogen emission policies with the Landbouw Collectief (the Agricultural Collective), a newly formed platform composed of many different farmer organizations. Like half a century ago, the government preferred to negotiate with just one representational body of farmers only. However, within months the participating organizations disagreed about the structure of the Landbouw Collectief and it felled apart as quickly as it had emerged. The strategies of ‘talking with the government to co-develop policies’ and ‘political activism to demand respect and farmer freedom’ turned out extremely difficult to combine. Of course, not everything is the same, as nowadays many farmers have incorporated ‘sustainability’ in their farm operations. But the challenges defined by Frouws of getting farmers involved in environmental regulation, “accepting responsibility for ‘general’ interests such as the protection of nature”, and accepting the need to discuss a restructuring of the livestock sector, remain as big and as relevant as 25 years ago. It might help to face these challenges if activists, policy makers, and politicians would read Frouws’ classic on farmer representation and environmental crisis.

Frouws, Jaap (1994). Mest en macht: Een politiek-sociologische studie naar belangenbehartiging en beleidsvorming inzake de mestproblematiek in Nederland vanaf 1970. Wageningen University (PhD Dissertation).

Hemminki, Janne (2021). The Nitrogen-crisis and social differentiations in the Dutch livestock sector. Wageningen University (unpublished MSc thesis).

Stuiver, Marian (2008). Regime change and storylines : a sociological analysis of manure practices in contemporary Dutch dairy farming. Wageningen University (PhD Dissertation).