75th Anniversary: 54) Research at the Rural Sociology Group:  Making a Difference

Dirk Roep

Overall, my main interest has been on how people come together, and, in collective action, (attempt to) make a difference – how they overcome the constraints they encounter in their everyday life, how in their practice they not only deviate from what is taken for granted or imposed but (try to) make what is considered impossible possible and how they can create meaningful differences and opportunities. Meaningful to themselves, but also as meaningfully novel, promising practices, opportunities in the light of all the challenges that humanity faces in making our earthly life more healthy, sustainable, equitable and inclusive – a better place for all. This points to agency as an intermediary between actors and structures and particularly to transformative agency.

Change is not inherently good – it can also be quite ugly. We are subject to all kinds of dynamically interacting processes that impact on our everyday life, human and non-human initiated and operating on different scales. We need to time and again scrutinise, evaluate and critically reflect on the impact that all these processes have on humans and non-humans, on all that matters. This is core to what rural and rural and agrarian sociology is about for me.

In this respect, the PhD thesis on two diverging styles of farming (Stijlen van Landbouwbeoefening: uiteenlopende ontwikkelingspatronen) by Van der Ploeg and Bolhuis (1985) was an eyeopener to me as a novice in the field. It demonstrated that farmers are indeed subject to all kind of ordering processes in which farming is situated, thus limiting the space for farming and even imposing or enforcing a particular mode of farming – but also that farming and farm development is not fully determined by these hegemonic processes.

Within the Technical Administrative Task Environment (TATE), as Bruno Benvenuti (1982) conceptualised the prescriptive structuring principles, there is space for resistance, deviation and divergence, a certain autonomy, although to what extent is not only an empirical question but also heavily debated. Farmers can indeed make a difference, by structuring their (family) farm labour in meaningful ways following a particular rationale based on more widely shared opinions, values and norms about how to best farm that are internalised and externalised in interaction as evolving patterns of ‘rules in use’ (Ostrom 1992).

Styles of farming can be seen as institutionalised ways of doing, thinking and feeling (Berger & Luckman 1967). This explains how diverging styles of farming, as different modes of ordering (Law 1994), emerge within (apparently) homogeneous settings. Farmers, as individuals but more often in collectives, both resist the structuring (political, economic and bio-physical) forces they are subject to in their everyday life and also build the individual and collective capacity to bypass these forces by creating relatively autonomous protected spaces or niches that provide them with the room for manoeuvre to differ, deviate and differentiate according to their rationale. This is how I became engaged in rural and agrarian sociology. The institutional imperative (Zijderveld 2000) has guided me since in understanding how continuity and change are inherent to action and how heterogeneity is reproduced in interactions between humans and non-humans, between society and living and dead matter with technology as an intermediate (Roep 2000).

In my (1989) MSc-thesis, ‘Stap voor Stap of in een Sprong’ (Step by Step or in one Leap), I explored differential growth patterns and family farm income strategies among farmers producing milk for the famous Parmigiano Reggiano, extending the PhD-research by Van der Ploeg, which was further elaborated in Van der Ploeg, Saccomandi and Roep (1990). This became the launching pad for a series of studies on farming styles – ‘bedrijfsstijlen’ in Dutch, following Hofstee – starting in the Netherlands with Van der Ploeg and Roep (1989). Not only were different farm development and family income strategies based on different rationales revealed by this work but also the differentiated impacts they had, such as on the environment through significant variations in nutrient losses. It was also revealed that farmers, within their institutional embedding, built different capacities when following different farm development paths. Farming styles did make a difference, and this made them politically relevant considering the challenges agriculture was, and it still is, facing and the search for more sustainable and even regenerative farming practices.

The farming styles research also showed that farmers on their own, in supporting networks and in collectives were pioneering alternative farming practices to escape the pressing income squeeze in ways other than by increasing production volume. During the 1990s, the Rural Sociology research team at Wageningen became engaged with various farmer-driven initiatives developing alternative farm development strategies and pathways for agrarian and rural development. These were subsequently mapped, first in the Netherlands and then later across Europe (van der Ploeg & Banks 2002). The broadening, deepening and regrounding of farm practices were identified as alternative income strategies to counter further marginalisation, and an alternative rural development paradigm emerged to the dominant productivist paradigm promoting scale enlargement, intensification and specialisation as the only viable strategy (van der Ploeg & Roep 2003).

Within the framing of this alternative paradigm, local grassroots initiatives developed the necessary but previously lacking capacity to develop and operate in experimental spaces or niches, supported by newly created alliances and networks. I became engaged with a group of pioneering farmers in the western peatland area that, inspired by renowned high added value products with a denomination of origin like the Parmigiano Reggiano and Comte, aimed to upgrade farm-made cheese, Boerenkaas, a speciality product with excellent but underdeveloped potential. Having turned completely towards bulk production, the Netherlands lacked both the capacity to produce and market high-quality speciality food products with a denomination of origin and the proper institutional setting to support this.

Based on this case, I argued in my PhD-thesis, ‘Innovative work: tracks and traces of capacity and incapacity’ (Roep 2000), that the narrowly focused productivist paradigm which had dominated agriculture and rural development since the 1950s and transformed Dutch agriculture and rural areas profoundly through its comprehensive capacity had, at the same time, resulted in an institutionalised incapacity. Diversity was long seen as an aberration, not as a rich source to explore alternative, promising pathways.

Thus, there developed a research agenda on the transformative potential of a wide range of novel practices in farming and food provisioning – or, the Seeds of Transition (Wiskerke & Van der Ploeg 2004). I have been involved in some of the research projects and publications exploring promising sustainability pathways and the new capacities being forged. We have identified and elaborated on various niches supported by alliances in new networks and the accompanying, co-evolving institutional reform (Roep & Wiskerke 2004, 2006, 2012).

The transformative capacity of grassroots initiatives and promising practices, the ability to make a difference and specifically the struggle with allies for and the creation of a favourable institutional embedding to counter unsustainabilities, degeneration, exclusion and inequalities make up the connecting thread throughout my research (Horlings, Roep & Wellbrock 2018; van den Berg et al. 2018). This was complemented by a relational approach, inspired by actor-network theory (ANT) (Law & Hassard 1999) and what Law and Mol (1995) dubbed ‘relational materialism’, and then by Massey (1994) and others with regard to place-shaping practices. This was foundational to the Marie Curie ITN project ‘SUSPLACE: Exploring the Transformative Capacity of Place-Shaping Practices’ (Horlings et al. 2020). Thence, the focus of my work has shifted from sustainable farming practices to sustainable food provisioning practices and sustainable place-shaping practices – and, more recently, from sustainability to regeneration as a future guide.

In line with the above, my current interest is in grassroots or citizens initiatives that aim to

  • Restore and regenerate agro-ecosystems, particularly pioneers in regenerative agriculture and regenerative modes of food provisioning;
  • New commons and commoning, particularly diverse forms of community farming.

And, not least, support and report once again on those initiatives engaged in making a difference.


  • Benvenuti, B. (1982) De Technologisch-Administratieve Taakomgeving (TATE) van landbouwbedrijven. Marquetalia, 5, p.111-136.
  • Berger, P.L., and Luckman, T. (1967). The Social Construction of Reality; A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge. London: Penguin Press.
  • Hermans, F., Klerkx L., Roep, D. (2016). Scale Dynamics of Grassroots Innovations Through Parallel Pathways of Transformative Change. Ecological Economics, 130: 285-295.
  • Horlings, L.G., Roep, D. and Wellbrock, W. (2018). The Role of Leadership in Place-Based Development and Building Institutional Arrangements, Local Economy, 33(3): 245-268.
  • Horlings, L.G., Roep, D., Mathijs, E., Marsden T. (2020). Exploring the Transformative Capacity of Place-Shaping Practices, Sustainability Science, 15: 353-362.
  • Law, J. (1994). Organizing Modernity. Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Law, J., and Mol, A. (1995). Notes on Materiality and Sociality, The Sociological Review, 43: 274-294.
  • Law, J., and Hassard, J. (Eds.) (1999). Actor Network Theory and After. Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Methorst, R.G., Roep, D., Verstegen, F.J.H.M., and Wiskerke, J.S.C. (2017). Three-Fold Embedding: Farm development in relation to its socio-material context. Sustainability, 9: 1677.
  • Massey, D. (1994). Space, Place and Gender. Cambridge (UK): Polity Press.
  • Moschitz, H., Roep, D., Brunori, G., and Tisenkopfs, T. (2015). Learning and Innovation Networks for Sustainable Agriculture: Processes of co-evolution, joint reflection and facilitation, The Journal of Agricultural Education and Extension, 21(1): 1-11.
  • Ostrom, E. (1992). Crafting Institutions for Self-governing Irrigation Systems. San Francisco: ICS Press.
  • Roep, D. (1988). Stap voor Stap of met een Sprong: Bedrijfsstrategieën in het landbouwstelsel van de Parmigiano Reggiano. Doctoraalscriptie Agrarische Ontwikkelingssociologie. Wageningen: Wageningen University. (Dutch)
  • Roep,, D. (2000). Innovative Work: Tracks of capacity and incapacity. PhD thesis. Wageningen: Wageningen University. (Dutch)
  • Roep, D., van der Ploeg, J.D., and Wiskerke, J.S.C. (2003). Managing Technical Institutional Design Processes: Some strategic lessons from environmental co-operatives in the Netherlands, NJAS Journal for Life Sciences, 51(1-2): 195-217.
  • Roep, D., and Wiskerke, J.S.C. (2004). Epilogue: Reflecting on novelty production and niche management in agriculture, in J.S.C. Wiskerke and J.D. van der Ploeg (eds.), Seeds of Transition: Essays on Novelty Production, Niches and Regimes in Agriculture, pp. 341-356. Assen: Van Gorcum.
  • Roep, D., and Wiskerke, J.S.C. (Eds.). (2006). Nourishing Networks; Fourteen Lessons About Creating Sustainable Food Supply Chains. Rural Sociology Group. Wageningen/ Doetinchem: Wageningen University and Reed Business Information.
  • Roep, D., and Wiskerke, J.S.C. (2012). On Governance, Embedding and Marketing: Reflections on the construction of alternative sustainable food networks, Journal of Agriculture and Environmental Ethics, 25: 205-221.
  • van den Berg, L., Roep, D., Hecink, P., and Mancini Teixeira, H. (2018). Reassembling Nature and Culture: Resourceful farming in Araponga, Brazil, Journal of Rural Studies, 61: 314-322.
  • van der Ploeg, J.D., and Bolhuis, E.E. (1985). Boerenarbeid en Stijlen van Landbouwbeoefening; En socio-economisch onderzoek naar de effecten van incorporatie en institutionalisering op agrarische ontwikkelingspatronen in Italië en Peru, Leiden Development Studies, 8: 511.
  • van der Ploeg, J.D., Saccomandi, V., and Roep, D. (1990). Differentiële Groeipatronen in de Landbouw: Het verband tussen zingeving en structurering. Tijdschrift voor Sociaal wetenschappelijk onderzoek van de Landbouw, 5: 108-132.
  • van der Ploeg, J.D., and Roep, D. (1990). Bedrijfsstijlen in de Zuidhollandse Veenweidegebieden: Nieuwe perspektieven voor beleid en belangenbehartiging; Koninklijke Land– en Tuinbouwbond en Vakgroep Agrarische Ontwikkelingssociologie Wageningen University.
  • van der Ploeg, J.D., Long, A., and Banks, J. (2002). Living Countrysides. Rurale development processes in Europe: The state of the art. Doetinchem: Elsevier bedrijfsinformatie.
  • van der Ploeg, J.D., and Roep, D. (2003). Multifunctionality and Rural Development: The actual situation in Europe, in G. van Huylenbroeck and G. Durand (Eds), Multifunctional Agriculture: A New Paradigm for European Agriculture and Rural Development, pp. 37-53. Farnham (UK): Ashgate Publishers.
  • Wiskerke, J.S.C., and van der Ploeg, J.D. (Eds.). Seeds of Transition: Essays on Novelty Production, Niches and Regimes in Agriculture. Assen: Van Gorcum.
  • Zijderveld, A.C. (2000) The Institutional Imperative: The value of institutions in contemporary society. Amsterdam University Press, Amsterdam.

75th Anniversary: 53) Research at the Rural Sociology Group: Agriculture, Decolonization and National-Popular Development

Max Ajl

What has been the role of poor rural people in the periphery in changing the world? How can the world change so that poor rural people are no longer poor? How does putting the social inclusion or exclusion of poor rural people front-and-center change how we understand politics, planning, methodology, and epistemology? And what happens to these questions when we place them in the broader framework of ecology and the ecological crisis? These questions have been central to development theories over the last decades or even the last century, and have inflected discussion of the agrarian question, in its political, social, ecological, and national aspects. Yet there has remained a nagging gap between (1) work on decolonization, including contemporary epistemological inquiries; (2) work dealing with macro-economic planning; (3) work on agro-ecology, food sovereignty, pastoralism, and sustainable livelihoods.

Over the last decade, I have tried to address these questions in a variety of ways. Spatially, I have worked outwards from Tunisia to North Africa, the Arab region as a whole, and world ecological crisis. In terms of disciplines, I have worked outwards from rural sociology into historical ecology, the intellectual and social history of planning, and the intellectual history of heterodox post-colonial theories of development.

My dissertation research (Ajl 2019a) started with a puzzle: why and how did Tunisia come to be a poor country, and specifically how did state policies reproduce rural poverty? It tried to understand this through the phenomenon of state price engineering. Yet prices reflected social and political power balances, and the origins of those balances were unclear to me: why and how had poor rural Tunisians been excluded from development? This led to work on the political-historical sociology of anti-colonial revolt, decolonization, and post-colonial political management, especially focused on how the political mobilization of the peasantry/pastoralist population of Tunisia was sheared and blocked from becoming inclusion in Tunisian developmentalism.

In parallel, I worked on other cases in the Arab region, including Syria (Ajl 2019b; Ajl et al. 2020), Yemen (Ajl 2018a), and the Arab region more broadly (Ajl 2021a) tracing how different constellations of social forces, domestically and internationally, led to different agrarian trajectories: partially rural-incorporating as in Syria and Egypt, for example. Or, how the Green Revolution manifested in the Arab region (Ajl 2017; Ajl and Sharma Forthcoming). These studies showed the agrarian question was central to world geopolitics, with more rural-incorporating governments understood as antagonistic to the established order because of their partial endogenization of productive forces. In this way, they showed that national agrarian question were local expressions of a global process (McMichael 1997), wherein political shifts in some Arab nation-states changed the parameters of agrarian/developmental politics in others. In this way I was able to think about how to break from methodological nationalism not only at the level of capitalist accumulation (Wolf 1969) but also resistance to it.

Examining the politics of national liberation and post-colonial planning led me into critiques of those processes from heterodox planners, agronomists, and economists in the Arab region, extending to West Africa and especially Senegal, the home of Samir Amin. In a series of essays (Ajl 2021b, 2019c, 2018b, 2022) I have examined notions of self-reliant or auto-centered development. This idea is based on the diagnosis that countries’ insertion into global capitalism pushes them to pursue policies inimical to the well-being of their poorest sectors. It would follow that more auto-centered policies, focusing on fulfilling the basic needs of the poorest, would lead to superior development outcomes. I examined this idea theoretically through the work of Amin and at the level of intellectual history, as it emerged in planning proposals from Chinese-influenced Egyptian and Tunisian planners.

A third ‘track’ has been my concern with climate change, in particular how to connect the problems of Northern planning and social and ecological crisis with southern aspirations for national popular and ecological development planning. This has resulted in a book (Ajl, 2021c) and a series of articles and chapters (Ajl 2021d, Forthcoming; Ajl and Wallace 2021; Tilley and Ajl 2022) focusing on various aspects of this question: critiques of green modernization, green demographic management, intervention in pastoralist livelihoods, and above all a program for national development planning North and South: bringing what I have learned into Tunisia about popular planning, developmental needs, and appropriate technologies into the northern planning conversation, to think about how to make a world big enough for everyone, North and South.

  • Ajl, M., 2022. Food Sovereignty, the National Question, and Post-colonial Development in Africa, in: Ben Gadha, M., Kaboub, F., Koddenbrock, K., Mahmoud, I., Samba Sylla, N. (Eds.), Economic and Monetary Sovereignty in 21st Century Africa. Pluto, London, pp. 238–258.
  • Ajl, M., 2021a. Does the Arab region have an agrarian question? The Journal of Peasant Studies 48, 955–983. https://doi.org/10.1080/03066150.2020.1753706
  • Ajl, M., 2021b. Delinking’s Ecological Turn: The hidden legacy of Samir Amin. Review of African Political Economy.
  • Ajl, M., 2021c. A People’s Green New Deal. Pluto Press, London.
  • Ajl, M., 2021d. A People’s Green New Deal: Obstacles and prospects. Agrarian South: Journal of Political Economy 10, 371–390. https://doi.org/10.1177/22779760211030864
  • Ajl, M., 2019a. Farmers, Fellaga, and Frenchmen (PhD). Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y.
  • Ajl, M., 2019b. The Political Economy of Thermidor in Syria: National and international dimensions, in: Syria: From National Independence to Proxy War. Springer, pp. 209–245.
  • Ajl, M., 2019c. Auto-Centered Development and Indigenous Technics: Slaheddine el-Amami and Tunisian delinking. Journal of Peasant Studies 46, 1240–1263.
  • Ajl, M., 2018a. Yemen’s Agricultural World: Crisis and prospects, in: Crisis and Conflict in Agriculture. CABI.
  • Ajl, M., 2018b. Delinking, Food Sovereignty, and Populist Agronomy: Notes on an intellectual history of the peasant path in the global South. Review of African Political Economy 45, 64–84.
  • Ajl, M., 2017. Field Notes on Tunisia’s Green Revolution. Viewpoint Magazine.
  • Ajl, M., Forthcoming. Everything Changes While Everything Stays the Same. Development and Change.
  • Ajl, M., Haddad, B., Abul-Magd, Z., 2020. State, Market, and Class: Egypt, Syria, and Tunisia, in: A Critical Political Economy of the Middle East and North Africa, !!046316523!School for Advanced Research Advanced Seminar Series. Stanford University Press, pp. 46–67.
  • Ajl, M., Sharma, D., Forthcoming. Transversal Countermovements: The afterlives of the Green Revolution in Tunisia and India. Canadian Journal of Development Studies/Revue canadienne d’études du développement.
  • Ajl, M., Wallace, R., 2021. Red Vegans against Green Peasants [WWW Document]. New Socialist. URL http://newsocialist.org.uk/red-vegans-against-green-peasants/ (accessed 11.1.21).
  • McMichael, P., 1997. Rethinking Globalization: the agrarian question revisited. Review of International PoIiticaI Economy 4, 630–662.
  • Tilley, L., Ajl, M., 2022. Eco-socialism Will be Anti-eugenic or it Will Be Nothing: Towards equal exchange and the end of population. Politics 02633957221075323. https://doi.org/10.1177/02633957221075323
  • Wolf, E.R., 1969. Peasant Wars of the Twentieth Century. University of Oklahoma Press.

75th Anniversary: 51) Family Farming Futures: A research agenda

Henk Oostindie

Family-farms’ responsiveness to societal change plays a prominent role in my research interests. Initially, I focused on the societal significance of differentiating ‘farming styles’ in relation to a variety of topics, such as deteriorating farm incomes, agri-environmental problems and loss of rural amenities. Later, I studied agricultural diversification tendencies, guided by notions like resistance, resilience and redesign as integrating insights from various sociological strands. In this wider theorizing of the empirical material collected over previous decades on farmers’ individual and collective reactions to marginalisation tendencies, narratives of their struggles to regain a certain autonomy have been interwoven with active attempts to create alternative, more promising and independent relations through new forms of cooperation (networks, alliances, partnerships, etc.). 

I believe there are good reasons to continue to develop a strongly empirical and grounded approach to research on the resilience of family farming. Here, I will illustrate this with a consideration of ongoing agricultural dynamics in the Dutch setting, which has a particular value also given the relatively little attention afforded to our Rural Sociology Group ‘home situation’ in the other contributions to this anniversary book.

The Netherlands faces a period of serious tensions between its farming population and society at arising from struggles for space, both literally and in terms of agri-environmental pollution rights related to the persistence of agri-environmental climate change issues in a rather vulnerable delta setting. As part of the politically highly sensitive national Nitrogen Dossier, agriculture as an economic sector is increasingly in competition with others, especially transport and housing, with reference to compromises around reduction targets and the (re)allocation and distribution of emission rights. Dutch farmers differ rather fundamentally in their opinions about how to tackle this agri-environmental challenge.

For a significant part of the Dutch farming community, this represents less of a challenge than a fundamental threat to their professional interests and identity – as expressed, for example, in recent farmers’ demonstrations and their accompanying demands. However, as revealed by national surveys, around 40% of farmers are willing to accept cuts in their nitrogen emission rights provided there are accompanying compensation measures. These would include better targeted and more finely-tuned remuneration systems for their delivery of other, non-food ecosystem services ( contributions to biodiversity, landscape values, sustainable water management, etc.). These farmers’ openness to multifunctional, nature-inclusive and regenerative farming futures – or any other alternative to the primary mode of agricultural modernisation – reflect much more positive, constructive and hopeful attitudes to changing societal demands. As confirmed by research insights, something that can and should be at least partly explained by the peculiarities of family-farming logics.

In the Dutch setting, the wider societal benefits of the resilience of family-based farming remain under-recognised, I would argue. Thus, resilience understudied in relation to broader research topics involving the attractiveness of rural life-styles, vibrancy of rural communities, reproduction and preservation of rural distinctiveness, healthy and sustainable foodscapes and rural-urban interdependencies. Probably for the same reason, there is relatively little research attention devoted to topics such as how to deal with the particular vulnerabilities of family-based farming such as inter-generational succession.

Latter’s  increasingly high dependency on external financial resources as well as family-members willingness to accept non-market conform compensation levels, makes it often a critical moment, or break-point, in the continuity of family-farming. The current emergence of financially more accessible and socially more acceptable succession models reflects interesting responses in this context that deserve further research attention. For instance, splitting farms into multiple, smaller business units that continue to collaborate closely but that can be sold and purchased independently of one another might improve farm continuity and expand the social accessibility of farming, including better opportunities for new entrants without agricultural backgrounds.

My own special interest in the future of family-farming encompasses its accompanying policy-practice interfaces, with particular attention to novel forms of collective action. Again, limiting myself to the Dutch setting, this comprises initiatives as agri-environmental and territorial cooperatives, as well as a broad spectrum of other initiatives around the emergence of novel rural markets (green care, agri-tourism, leisure, alternative food qualities, etc.). In short, primarily, although certainly not exclusively, I investigate farmer-led collective responses to societal demands for more integrative agricultural development and more sustainable food systems. Associated social struggles against prevailing policy interventions and market dependencies and attempts to establish more place-based partnerships and alliances, along with the accompanying processes of negotiation, learning and boundary-crossing efforts all structure, motivate and orientate my interest in contemporary rural development practices and initiatives. This is theoretically underpinned by actor-network theory and relational approaches and insights from transition- and governance scholars.

Taken as a whole, these research interests are closely related to the research agenda of the Rural Sociology Group as outlined in this anniversary book. Contemporary family-farming dynamics are becoming particularly meaningful in relation to wider societal concerns as sustainable food-scapes and rural, or perhaps better, place-based well-being in a broader sense. This perspective draws on my three decades of participation in European projects addressing these type of interrelations in different ways, ranging from varying sustainable food network trajectories (e.g. within the EU-funded project SUS-CHAIN) to theorising rural competitiveness and quality of rural life through the rural web concept (e.g. EU-funded project ETUDE). I have certainly appreciated these attempts to integrate the research fields of the Rural Sociology Group within European projects, notwithstanding their limitations. One concern in this regard that I would like to address in this anniversary contribution is the absence of opportunities for more longitudinal research.

A mixture of short project time frames and commissioner-led agenda setting makes it difficult to get deeper insights in continuity and change over longer time periods. How did regional farming styles develop in time, or particular sustainable food networks? What happened to hopeful farmer-led collective initiatives, or promising and less promising rural web dynamics? I guess I will keep struggling with, and dreaming about, how to create space for more longitudinal research approaches to further unravel and underpin societal relevance, impact and promises of aforementioned research fields and interests.

Grond van Ons

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

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

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

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

75th anniversary: 29) Watch or re-watch the recorded lectures in our RSO 75 Years Anniversary Seminar Series

We kicked-off our seminar series ‘Looking back, Looking Forward: Setting a future agenda for rural sociology’ as part of the 75th anniversary celebration of Rural Sociology. The seminars lead-up to our grand anniversary celebration on May 13, 2022. For this anniversary seminar series we have invited a range of highly interesting scholars active in diverse fields closely linked to rural sociology and engaging with research themes, questions, approaches, and concepts relevant for the research agenda of rural sociology. The seminars engage with current work of the speaker as well as the context of past debates and future issues for rural sociology. You can watch the past two seminars on our YouTube channel. See here the announcement for our next seminar (May 19) on migrant labour in agriculture. Webinar: Migrant labour in agriculture | Rural Sociology Wageningen University

Lecture 1: ‘Farming Inside Invisible Worlds: Political ontologies of modernist agriculture’:         

Hugh Campbell, University of Otago, New Zealand

Date: 3d February 2021

This talk examines the way in which an explicit focus on colonisation can open up new ways to understand the power of modernist farms. Using the example of colonisation in Aotearoa New Zealand, farms are revealed as agents of ontological politics: both being created by the colonisation of indigenous worlds in many parts of the globe, but then also becoming agents that enacted a new, ‘scientific’, pacified, and highly ontologically-bounded modernist world. The outcome is a very specific kind of highly-empowered modernist/capitalist farming, locked into ‘farming inside invisible worlds’. The story of farming in Aotearoa New Zealand from colonisation to the present day reveals both the enormous colonising powers of modernist/capitalist farming, but also the inevitable fractures, overflows and contests that signal its inevitable demise.

Lecture 2: ‘Towards a Gaian agriculture’

Anna Krzywoszynska, University of Sheffield, UK

Date: 28th April 2021

This talk is concerned with the role for agri environmental social sciences in understanding the new human condition called by some “the Anthropocene”, and what I increasingly think of as the challenge of living with Gaia How have we become so lost that our most fundamental relationship with the environment, food getting, has come to undermine both our futures and those of our environments? And what is needed to build a new pact between humans and living ecosystems? I have been exploring these questions specifically in relation to soil as an existentially and conceptually crucial matter In this paper, I examine modern farming as built on multiple alienations, and propose the conditions under which re connection and a building agricultures which work with Gaia may become possible.

Reply of the European Commission to the Open letter on the EU’s ‘Farmers for the Future’ Report and the Farm to Fork Strategy

On March 11, we published an open letter to Frans Timmermans, Executive Vice-President of the European Commission, Janusz Wojciechowski, European Commissioner for Agriculture, and Norbert Lins, President of COMAGRI of the European Parliament  about the ‘Farmers for the Future’ (EUR 30464 EN) policy report. Signed by many academics from different countries in Europe, the letter wrote: “[W]e observe that ‘Farmers for the Future’ critically fails to make use of, or build upon, Europe’s rich academic tradition of exploring and extrapolating the wide and richly-chequered heterogeneity of its agriculture. We also observe that the report does not offer evidence-based, scientific, support that can contribute to the process of European policy making. Instead, ‘Farmers for the Future’  contains and introduces dangerous biases into the discussions and debates.” See the post: Open letter on the EU’s ‘Farmers for the Future’ Report and the Farm to Fork Strategy | Rural Sociology Wageningen University

In his response to the letter, European Commissioner for Agriculture Janusz Wojciechowski writes “I welcome your comments, as this study precisely aims at triggering a debate about the future of EU farmers, in order to raise relevant policy questions”.

Read the letter here.

75th Anniversary: 26) History and Sociology

Chair excursion to the peat-area in Drenthe (beginning of the eighties). From left to right: Aart Snel (our secretary), Ad van der Woude, Willibrord Rutte, Jouke Wigboldus, Jaap Buis and Henk Roessingh. On his back with the Edelman-drill: Jan Bieleman. Next to him one of our students. The photo was taken by Anton Schuurman.

By Anton Schuurman, Rural and Environmental History

The fame of the chair group Rural History brought me in 1978 to Wageningen. The Wageningen history group was at that time different from all the others history groups in the Netherlands – it was doing social science history, history as a social science with the methods of the social sciences with as its most characteristic feature the use of quantitative methods and statistics. It is still the message of our group: ‘We apply comparative historical methods to better understand long-term patterns of interdependence between people, institutions and environments. Our empirical work builds on a combination of qualitative sources and large statistical datasets, which we construct from historical archives across the globe.’ – it reads on our internet page. Although nowadays part of the section Economics of the Social Sciences Group – perhaps partly due to the fact that the heirs of Hofstee seem to have lost interest in doing quantitative work – , the chair group owned its existence to the tenacity of the same Hofstee (as so many of the social sciences chairs in Wageningen do) who succeeded finally in 1956 to lure Slicher van Bath away from Groningen to Wageningen.

Hofstee was a history-orientated sociologist (well, social geographer), as was explained earlier in these blogs, who later named his own way of doing sociology: encompassing sociology (differentiële sociologie – see  blog 5. In blog 5 the English translation is differential sociology. I prefer encompassing sociology – a term from Charles Tilly (Tilly, 1984; Schuurman, 1996), which in my view better captures Hofstee’s intention, although I suspect that Hofstee himself saw the title as  a reference to La vocation actuelle de la sociologie. Vers la sociologie différentielle (1957) by Georges Gurvitch).

Hofstee’s work played a large role in our work at RHi– he was our favourite scape goat. As all the sociologist he thought that the world had only changed in the 19th century – the famous process of modernisation, urbanisation and industrialisation. Before that – it were the Middle Ages, people working since time immemorial by the sweat of one’s brow. How wrong he was, how wrong the sociologist are. Slicher revealed the process of proto-industrialisation in Overijssel in the eighteenth century; Roessingh, using Chayanov far before Jan Douwe rediscovered him, demonstrated how the farmers on the Veluwe adapted their farming practices in their search for security; Van der Woude showed that the nuclear family was the default family in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Holland, Bieleman revealed the many changes in agriculture in Drenthe instead of the eternal rye cultivation  (“eeuwige roggebouw”). I could go on. The sociologists made us feel pretty smart.

I have to confess that my attitude to Hofstee was a bit different. Of course, he was a sociologist and prejudice-ridden, but for my work on the material culture of the Dutch countryside I was inspired by his encompassing sociology. I admired and admire his three-volume book Differentiële sociologie. It can still be used, maybe especially by global sociologists. Hofstee was my hero next to Elias, Bourdieu, Benjamin and Giedeon. But I was also influenced by other Wageningen sociologists – most of all by Rien Munters who had written his book Rising and declining cultural goods (Stijgende en dalende cultuurgoederen) (Munters, 1977). He claimed that in a real open society goods would diffuse in every social direction – but, in fact, even in the famous open society of the seventies he found just one rising good: rolling one’s own tobacco. In the nineteenth century countryside I also found just one: the sewing machine.

Later Munters had an even larger influence on me by letting me join the Giddens-circle, where I read together with Gert Spaargaren, Peter Oosterveer, Jan van Tatenhove, Tuur Mol, Frans von Benda-Beckmann and many others, contemporary sociologists from Giddens to Baumann, Urry  and Elden-Vass. The historian I became, I became because of Wageningen and of the Wageningen sociology group.

PS When I may do a public appeal: Sociology was so much more than Hofstee. I would like to read stories about or from his staff -members – Nooij, Kooy, De Ru, Benvenutti, Van der Ban, Munters, Wichers and many others – who wrote sometimes books that did become classics and who taught and influenced generations of sociologists. I remember Piet Holleman who not only made all the maps for the sociology group, but also for us; Corry Rothuizen who was at the department sociology when Hofstee worked there, and who is still working for Environmental Policy; Henk van Espelo who made the cartophoot-map that is still to see in the Leeuwenborch – there certainly will be other person who could write about them.  I personally have less knowledge of the non-Western sociology group, but I would love to hear, e.g., a story on Rudy van Lier, direct colleague of Hofstee, as non-Western sociologist, but so different from him.

  • Munters, Q. J. (1977). Stijgende en dalende cultuurgoederen. De “open” samenleving ter discussie. Alphen aan den Rijn 1977 Samsom.
  • Schuurman, Anton. (1996). Mensen maken verschil. Sociale theorie, historische sociologie en geschiedenis. Tijdschrift voor Sociale Geschiedenis, 22(2), 168-205.
  • Tilly, Charles. (1984). Big structures, large processes, huge comparisons. New York 1984 Russell sage foundation.

Open letter on the EU’s ‘Farmers for the Future’ Report and the Farm to Fork Strategy

Open letter of European scholars to (in English, French and Spanish):

  • Frans Timmermans, Executive Vice-President of the European Commission
  • Janusz Wojciechowski, European Commissioner for Agriculture,
  • Norbert Lins, President of COMAGRI of the European Parliament.

Re: ‘Farmers for the Future’

Wageningen, 10th of March 2021

Dear Sirs,

In 2020 the European Commission released ‘Farmers for the Future’ (EUR 30464 EN), a Science for Policy Report, prepared by the Joint Research Centre (JRC) of the European Commission. This policy report is intended to contribute to the further elucidation of the EU’s Farm to Fork Strategy which is a key element of the European Green Deal. It has, at its core, a description of 12 profiles that are attempt to categorize the likely diversity and range of professional farming styles in European agriculture in 2040. The report asks, and tries to respond to, the following question: “ Who will be the key players of the EU next generation agriculture, the farmers of the future?” Continue reading

75th Anniversary: 22) Vormende krachten, veranderende verhoudingen: reflecties op de studie van een veranderend platteland

“Noem je dissertatie nooit deel 1” schreef de Wageningse professor agrarische geschiedenis Pim Kooij (Kooij 1991: 9) in zijn inleiding tot het boek “Het Oldambt, deel 2: nieuwe visies op geschiedenis en actuele problemen”. Achteraf bezien was het wellicht niet eens zo’n heel slechte keuze van E.W. Hofstee om zijn proefschrift in 1937 “Het Oldambt: Vormende Krachten deel 1’ te noemen (Hofstee 1937). Zelf kwam de grand old man van de rurale sociologie er niet meer aan toe hier een deel 2 aan toe te voegen, oorspronkelijk beoogd als een integrerende en concluderende afsluiting van het voorafgaande deel. Maar zijn toevoeging ‘deel 1’ heeft anderen uiteindelijk de uitdaging doen aangaan om met een vervolg te komen. Al was het meer dan 50 jaar later, en niet zo zeer concluderend, maar reflecterend. Continue reading