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

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

Cover PhD Magazine 75 years Rural Sociology

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

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

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

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

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

75th Anniversary: 57) Research at the Rural Sociology Group:  Researching Mexican coffee policies resulting from a political regime change

Claudia Oviedo, PhD candidate at the Rural Sociology Group

Mexican coffee policies of recent decades have been highly criticised. Farmers, coffee organizations, academics, and development organizations have claimed that programmes implemented to promote coffee production in Mexico have been limited to assuring mere survival of farmers rather than promoting the necessary transformation of their livelihoods. One of the main criticisms of such programmes is that while the state provided plants, fertilizer, and sprayers through farmers’ organizations, due to clientelism many farmers did not receive the inputs they had been promised. Other criticisms include that such programmes have failed to involve effective commercialization strategies and have not provided adequate technical assistance, particularly with respect to disease management.

Collecting coffee beans – Photo by Erik García. 

In December of 2018, “leftist” President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) took office. Criticising previous neoliberal administrations’ lack of attention to rural areas, he promised his administration would benefit small farmers and that he would end corruption. To achieve this, his administration implemented the rural programme Sowing Life (Sembrando Vida) through the Ministry of Well-Being, providing approximately €250 monthly to farmers to plant deforested areas with fruit trees and annual crops using agroecological practices. The Ministry of Agriculture also launched the programme Production for Well-Being (Producción para el Bienestar), which also promotes sustainable coffee production, although with a much lower amount.

This PhD research analyses coffee policies implemented in 2019—he first year of AMLO´s administration, addressing the state’s conceptualization of farmers—essentially based on the size of their landholding—as well as its strategy for incorporating them principally into the organic market. Based on a Value Chain approach as well as Political Economy concepts, I found that those that farmers the state considers to be “small-scale” vary with respect to their level of control over the means of production. Furthermore, I conclude that selling to the organic market does not necessarily benefit all farmers and suggest the need to re-conceptualise the approach of public policy to “incorporating” coffee farmers into the market.

This study also addressed the political configuration of coffee programmes by unpacking the relationship among farmers, the state, and the coffee processing industry—namely Nestlé, as well as the interests of each of these actors and their strategies for obtaining their objectives. Two coffee trajectories were identified: one involving production of high-quality organic coffee and a high level of participation by the state and farmers´ organizations in policy development. The other trajectory is that of instant coffee, involving sale of lower-quality coffee to Nestlé. While several farmers’ organizations reject the latter trajectory, many farmers perceive benefits from cultivating coffee for this industry. Therefore, I urge policymakers and development agencies to allow for a variety of productive options rather than pre-determining a single production system.

Finally, this study addressed AMLO´s policy to reduce involvement of intermediaries by providing subsidies directly to farmers rather than through farmers´ organizations. Given that during previous administrations many representatives of these organizations retained a large part of the subsidies, many farmers welcomed this policy. However, its implementation has been characterised by operative problems and tensions between organizations and state personnel.  Some farmers´ organizations assured that not all such organizations are clientelistic; rather, they hold that they provide an essential mechanism for farmers to access more profitable marketing options. Meanwhile, the reactions of personnel from Sowing Life and Production for Well-Being contrasted significantly: as Sowing Life is extensively promoted by AMLO, and it does not stem from previous programmes, most personnel supported the reduction of intermediary policy. However, some staff of Production for Well-Being defended the work they had developed with farmers’ organisations and highly objected to the changes.

75th Anniversary: 56) Research at the Rural Sociology Group: Rethinking and Reimagining Urban Food Economies

By Oona Morrow

I believe that research can do more than describe and critique what already exists but also contribute to the co-creation of more just and sustainable futures. My research is concerned with grassroots sustainability innovations that endeavor to make urban food economies more collective, equitable, and shared. I approach these practices from the theoretical perspective of diverse economies, care, and the commons. These concerns have led me to examine a diverse range of topics at multiple urban scales ranging from everyday and gendered practices of food self-provisioning; to food sharing, food waste, and community composting; to community gardening and urban agriculture; to circular agri-food systems and urban food policies. What unites these topics is not simply a focus on food and the city, but my particular approach which is both critical and reparative, and sensitive to dynamics of creativity and power in grassroots sustainability innovations. I have had the joy of working with community food initiatives in Boston, New York, Berlin, and more recently Amsterdam.

But what does this actually look like, how do I go about it, and how did I arrive here ?

I began my PhD in geography with an interest in gender and diverse economies, but without a clearly defined research topic. In the U.S. a PhD takes a bit longer, and with three years of required course work I had time to explore a number of research topics and sub-disciplines before I began my field work. I knew that I wanted to conduct long term, participatory, and careful research in a place I felt connected to. I also knew what types of theories and concepts excited me – these tended to more feminist, post-structural, interested everyday life as a site of politics and possibility, and committed to social justice and transformation.

I found my conceptual home and community in feminist geography, and a particular strand of post-structural feminist economic geography being woven by J.K. Gibson-Graham and the community economies collective. Rather than viewing the economy as a monolithic structure that is imposed on us and driven by logics of growth, capitalism, and so on – this group of scholar-activists take an anti-essentialist approach to the multiple economies we make and remake each day in ethical negotiation with all of the (human and more-than-human) actors we are interdependent with. Using the metaphor of the economy as iceberg, they urge researchers, activist, and policy makers to look beyond the tip of the iceberg (e.g. gross domestic product, monetary exchanges, waged labor, capitalist enterprise), and appreciate the abundant and diverse activities happening below the water line that contribute to the well-being of people and planet. From this vantage familiar (but often static) concepts like class, the market, and enterprise are broken down into more open categories that facilitate the recognition and appreciation of economic diversity, local assets, and the too often hidden and undervalued labors of care and commoning.

Going into the field for me meant staying home in Somerville, Massachusetts (a once affordable inner suburb of Boston) and observing what was happening around me in terms of gender and diverse economies. It turned out that there was an incredible amount of non-market, cooperative, and commons based activities happening around food provisioning, in domestic and community spaces, and that gender (as well as race and class) played an important role in how these activities unfolded. I conducted ethnographic and action research with households and community food initiatives involved in self-provisioning, urban homesteading, and urban agriculture. I attended zoning meetings in Boston, where urban agriculture was being debated and reframed as an economic growth strategy, rather than a livelihood strategy. I sat in dozens of backyards, held chickens, admired the dancing of bees, shared meals, attended foraging, garden tours, and bee hive tours, and participated in countless workshops organized by the Urban Homesteaders League (a skill sharing community founded by the social practice artist Lisa Gross). I also organized and supported several community food initiatives who were trying to work out more collective and cooperative ways of food provisioning.  In collaboration with the League of Urban Canners I conducted participatory mapping to uncover the urban food commons, knocked on doors to glean backyard fruit for community food preservation, and harvest and processed tons of fruit into jam. In collaboration with the humans and microbes I fermented food in home and community settings. And I interviewed people about these experiences.

My interest in the convivial and shared aspect of food provisioning eventually brought me to Dublin Ireland, where I joined a team of researchers exploring the sustainability potential of urban food sharing. Inspired by the diverse economies framework, we developed a crowdsourced database and map to “make visible” the economic diversity of food sharing in 100 different cities. Through ethnographic research with community food initiatives in Berlin and New York City I dug deeper into my core concerns with diverse economies, care, and commoning. I became fascinated with the legal and regulatory frameworks that shape these practices, especially around notions of risk. I spoke with food safety officers and food sharers who cared deeply about these risks. I rescued, carried, distributed, gifted, shared, prepared, cooked, and consumed tons of “food waste”. I sat in communal gardens and kitchens and spoke with people. And I fell in love with compost, and community composting in particular.

At the Rural Sociology Group I have continued my research agenda on diverse economies and urban food commons, and developed a new research agenda on careful circularity which explores the potential for constructing circuits of care and solidarity rather than merely closing loops in the circular economy transition. I work on these topics together with students and in participatory research on grassroots circular food innovations in Amsterdam. I’m supported in this work by a web of scholars, activists, institutes, and importantly artists who help me to not only think but also to dream by prototyping social innovations and possible futures in food provisioning, commoning, circularity, and diverse economies.

Publications related to this work

  • Morrow, O., & Davies, A. (2021). Creating Careful Circularities: Community composting in New York City. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers.
  • Morrow, O. (2021). Ball jars, Bacteria, and Labor: CO-producing nature through cooperative enterprise. Food and Foodways, 1-17.
  • Morrow, O. (2021) Food Commons in M. Goodman, M. Kneafsey, L. Holloway, and D. Maye. Food Geographies. Bloomsbury
  • Morrow, O., & Parker, B. (2020). Care, Commoning and Collectivity: from grand domestic revolution to urban transformation. Urban Geography, 1-18.
  • Morrow, O. (2020). Gleaning: transactions at the nexus of food, commons and waste.  In Eds. K. Gibson and K. Dombroski.  Handbook of Diverse Economies.  Edward Elgar Publishing.
  • Hoffman, D., Poll, C., and Morrow, O (2019) Berlin’s Food Policy Council. RUAF UA Magazine 36: Food Policy Councils
  • Morrow, O. (2019) Community Self-Organizing and the Urban Food Commons in Berlin and New York.. Sustainability. Special issue “Community Self-Organisation, Sustainability, and Resilience in Food Systems.” Eds. M. Hasanov and M. Kneafsey
  • Morrow, O., & Martin, D. G. (2019). Unbundling Property in Boston’s Urban Food Commons. Urban Geography, 00(00), 1–21. https://doi.org/10.1080/02723638.2019.161581
  • Community Economies Collective, Morrow, O., St. Martin, K., Gabriel, N., Heras, A. (2019). Community Economies. pp. 56-61. in Eds. Antipode Editorial Collective. Keywords in Radical Geography: Antipode at 50. John Wiley and Sons. 
  • Morrow, O. (2019). Sharing Food and Risk in Berlin’s Urban Food Commons. Geoforum: Special Issue on Urban Food Sharing. Eds. A. Davies and D. Evans.
  • McKinnon, K., Dombroski, K., and Morrow, O. (2018) The Diverse Economy: Feminism, Capitalocentrism, and Postcapitalist Futures. In Eds. A. Roberts and J. Elias. Handbook of International Political Economy of Gender. Edward Elgar Publishers.
  • Davies, A.R., Edwards, M., Marovelli, B., Morrow, O., Rut, M., Weymes, M. (2017). Making Visible: Interrogating the performance of food sharing across 100 urban areas. Geoforum.
  • Parker, B. and Morrow, O. (2017) Urban Homesteading and Intensive Mothering: (Re) Gendering Care and Environmental Responsibility in Boston and Chicago. Gender, Place, and Culture.
  • Morrow, O. (2017) League of Urban Canners: Stewarding Urban Fruit Orchards. In Eds. Shareable. Sharing Cities: Activating the yrban commons. https://www.shareable.net/sharing-cities/
  • Morrow, O., Hawkins, R., Kern, L. (2015) Feminist Research in Online Spaces. Gender, Place, and Culture. 22(4): 526-43
  • Morrow, O., and Dombroski, K. (2015) Enacting a Post-Capitalist Politics through the sites and practices of life’s work. in eds. K. Strauss and K. Meehan. Precarious Worlds: New Geographies of Social Reproduction. Athens, Georgia: University of Georgia Press ‘geographies of justice and social transformation series’ pp. 82-96.

Artists, Activists &  Initiatives who have inspired this work

75th Anniversary: 55) Research at the Rural Sociology Group: The Spatial Dimension of Insurgent-Civilian Relations: Routinised Insurgent Space

Francis O’Connor

I was born in the 1980s, in the bucolic countryside of west Limerick where I  enjoyed an idyllic and happy childhood, completely distant from the conflict which wracked the north of Ireland during the so called “Troubles”. Nevertheless, as an admittedly very precocious child, through overheard snippets of adult conversations, impertinent questions, partially understood news headlines, the occasional drama of IRA arms dumps found in the local area and the half-earnest choruses of “Up the Ra”[1] that permeated the Irish social life of my childhood, I recognised the presence of an unspoken something. A something which did not interfere in any way with my childhood priorities of playing hurling and avoiding the hard jobs on our family farm, but as I grew up and read more about Irish politics and what had been happening on the island, it remained a something that engendered a curiosity in me. How was it possible that an armed Republican group, the Irish National Liberation Army carried out Ireland’s biggest ever robbery (21 million euro in today’s terms) in 1978, at the other side of my small parish? Within my childhood cycling radius, where in my experience literally nothing ever happened.  Even now the Mullaghareirk Mountains of my home, are a disorientating maze of narrow roads, high hedgerows, bog, woods and scrubland, in 1978 they would have been completely unknowable to an armed unit of Socialist Republicans from the North. Without local knowledge and assistance, would such an ambitious robbery have ever succeeded? Were the people of my childhood, someway complicit in supporting the violence, incessantly critiqued by the political mainstream in Ireland? Why would people like me and mine, safely ensconced in the rhythms our rural lives get unnecessarily involved in a violent campaign that resulted in hundreds and thousands of deaths? Was it ideology, a sense of obligation or guilt, hatred, fear, ignorance or mere happenstance? This unresolved, half-forgotten line of questioning lay dormant through my formative years.

Half-forgotten that is, until I began university in 2003, at the hysteric heights of the “War on Terror”, where terrorism and support for terrorism saturated all political debate and infiltrated our university discussions and seminars. This reawakened my latent interest on what support for political violence comprises. It led me to take every available course and seminar on civil wars and political violence, to do a Masters on Middle East politics and eventually brought me to Italy to a PhD on the relationship between the PKK and its supporters at the European University Institute in Florence. Under the guidance of Professor Donatella della Porta, one of the world’s leading social movement scholars, I found myself immersed in a vibrant conceptual and theoretical universe. One shaped by the ongoing debate centred on the ground-breaking Dynamics of Contention (2003) by Doug McAdam, Sydney Tarrow and Charles Tilly which argued for a broad approach to the study of a spectrum of contentious politics according to its constituent mechanisms. A spectrum which ranged from episodes such as riots to full blown insurgencies. 

This debate had stimulated a parallel blossoming of social movement research on violence, expanding beyond its foundational pillars of political opportunity structures, resource mobilization and framing to incorporate a relational focus emphasising the dynamic and contingent elements of violent social change. One which argued it was less the inherent characteristics of movements that determined their success or failures, but rather how movements interacted with political institutions, political adversaries and allies that provided a better explanation of political outcomes.  This new wave of research also addressed the criticism that social movement studies had been the empirical preserve of western liberal societies by also incorporating research on global violent and non-violent movements. And since then, I have found myself drawing from this rich theoretical spring of contentious politics and social movements to better understand why civilians support armed movements. An intellectual reservoir which has emboldened me to take a critical stance on much of the rationalist and structuralist approaches which have dominated the study of conflict. After a few twists and post-doctoral turns through Italy, Denmark and Germany, and extremely satisfying diversions to work and publish on lone actor radicalisation, anti-austerity protest, referendums and pro-independence movements, I arrived at the RSO with a new project, that addresses the spatial dynamics of armed groups’ interactions with their supportive constituencies.

The Spatial Dimension of Insurgent-Civilian Relations: Routinised Insurgent Space

In mid-2021, my book Understanding Insurgency: Popular Support for the PKK in Turkey (Cambridge University Press) based on the findings of my PhD research was published. During the many years it took to finally publish the book, and in light of the increasingly hostile research environment in Turkey, I decided to attempt developing a comparative research agenda, to see if the PKK’s determination to maintain the active support and approval of its constituency was an outlier and if other groups were similarly minded. Through a series of chance encounters, I came into contact with the M-19, an armed group which was active in Colombia from the 1970s until 1990.  I set about learning Spanish and in 2018 conducted fieldwork with former supporters and veteran members of the M-19 in Bogota.

 Reflecting upon the interviews I conducted with both the PKK and the M-19, it became clear that the relationship between the insurgents and supporters was not simply a relational dynamic, but one which took place in specific spaces. Encounters between insurgents and civilians were rarely random, they occurred in specific places at specific times. Armed M-19 operatives boarded buses packed with workers to engage in revolutionary propaganda before disembarking and disappearing into early morning rush hour. In the 1990s the PKK organised revolutionary picnics on the outskirts of Istanbul to recruit youngsters. The PKK transformed funerals from instances of private grief and loss, to occasions of revolutionary defiance. The M-19 actually built neighbourhoods for the rural displaced on the margins of Colombia’s rapidly expanding cities. Interviewed insurgents were explicit in how they strategically tailored their encounters to create favourable interactions which reflected positively on the movement. In certain neighbourhoods (or spaces in a conceptual sense) they promoted Kurdish or Colombian nationalism, in others they emphasised traditional socialist objectives. What do revolutionary courts in Kurdistan, the distribution of wellington boots and milk, the ritualised burying of the dead and the organisation of daily life in prison have in common? I argue that they are all forms of Routinised Insurgent Space (RIS).

RIS can be understood as the way insurgent movements deliberately engineer or appropriate existing social spaces to facilitate interactions with supportive constituencies. RIS contains functional and symbolic logics: it embeds armed groups in their immediate spatial environments allowing them access to local resources, but it is also a means of consolidating political legitimacy. From the perspective of the constituency, RIS renders interactions with armed actors safer and more predictable and can potentially lead to a form of joint habitus regarding political identity and behavioural norms. Although the types of RIS implemented are expressions of insurgent movements’ strategy, they are reciprocally constituted and shaped by local civilian agency which can resist or alter them.  My project focuses initially on four distinct forms of RIS: Insurgent Policing & Courts, Insurgent Service Provision, Insurgent Prison Mobilisation and Insurgent Funerals. A rigorous literature analysis and suggested that these four forms are not ideologically specific and recur across almost all types of insurgent mobilisation to greater or lesser extents.

As a comparative project, it of course strives to identify similarities and differences between the cases, but it also focuses on within-case variation. How do forms of RIS vary from urban to rural areas and even across wealthier and poorer neighbourhoods? In contrast to the flourishing rebel governance approach, it also attempts to track how these forms of incipient governance evolve over time rather than focusing on insurgent institutions once they are already established. It tracks efforts to create forms of RIS from their earliest incarnations, analysing why their success varies. In terms of data, the project will make use of interview data with former insurgents and their constituency. A key milestone in the project will be the hosting of a workshop at the RSO in September 2022 titled: The Margins of Insurgent Control: Spaces of Governance.  It is specifically designed to merge the relevant literatures from contentious politics and social movements, social geography anthropology and rebel governance with an explicit focus on the nature of the data used to study armed movements.

O’Connor, Francis. 2021. Understanding Insurgency: Popular Support for the PKK in Turkey. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

[1] “Up the Ra” is short for Up the IRA. In Irish, one would express support for somebody or something by shouting for example Gailimh Abú meaning “come on Galway”. In Hiberno-English, abú has been directly translated as up, leading to  the use of ”up something or other” as a common phrase. Up the Ra is a phrase which has to a certain extent escaped its original political connotations and has found its way into sports chants, drunken tomfoolery between non politicised groups of friends and into popular songs. However, its connotations are contextually dependent and can take on a greater or lesser air of menace according to who is in earshot.

75th Anniversary: 49) Hofstee has left his mark on Wageningen studies on extension communication

Cees Leeuwis*

Prof. Anne van den Ban is generally regarded as the founding father of the Wageningen communication sciences. He was appointed as Professor of extension communication (‘Voorlichtingskunde’) in 1964,  which became the cradle for a rich and influential array of academic endavours at the intersection between communication, innovation and change in the sphere of health, environment and agriculture. These activities have continued until today and now take place across several chairgroups and sections at Wageningen University.

Hofstee and Van der Ban

While Prof. Van den Ban certainly deserves a lot of credit for developing the new discipline and building an internationally recognized group, it is important to acknowledge the contribution of Prof. E.W. Hofstee in getting Van den Ban started. Hofstee was promotor of Van den Ban’s 1963 PhD dissertation on the communication of new farm practices in the Netherlands, and he no doubt inspired Van den Ban in choosing his topic. In fact, already in 1953 Hofstee wrote about the importance of studying ‘sociological aspects of agricultural extension’ in the first (!)  ‘Bulletin’ that was published by his group (Hofstee, 1953).  He was also in touch with the public extension services that had been established by the Ministry of Agriculture a few decades earlier, and gave lectures to Ministry staff on the significance of group-based agricultural extension approaches (e.g. Hofstee, 1960). Reading these early works by Hofstee made me -as one of the successors of Van den Ban- realize how much we still owe to Hofstee today.

In essence, Hofstee criticizes the then prevailing extension services and practices for assuming that farmers take decisions according to an individualistic economic rationale. He points to the importance of social, collective and cultural dynamics in shaping what farmers do or do not, and also to the importance of social differentiation and regional ‘farming styles’ in explaining farmers’ economic activity. In order to be effective, extension organisations and professionals should -according to Hofstee- understand the importance of such ‘sociological aspects’ and anticipate these in their work (Hofstee, 1953). This implies that extension workers should look at extension and knowledge transfer as an inherently social process rather than as a series of communicative ‘tricks’  and also be reflective about their own social positions (Hofstee, 1960) The concern with the ‘effectivess of extension’ (or better: the lack of it) demonstrates Hofstee’s commitment to the post second world war modernisation project and his own normativity in this regard. Despite his sensitivity for social and normative issues, he continued to talk in terms of ‘good, progressive’ and ‘bad, backward’ farmers (Hofstee, 1953), thereby (re)producing the paternalistic connotations of the Dutch word for extension communication: ‘Voorlichting’. This term literally means something like ‘holding a light in front of someone to lead the way’ assuming apparently that people are ‘in the dark’ and need to be ‘enlightened’ by those with scientific training.

While today’s studies on communication, innovation and change have arguably left this ‘enlightenment’  and ‘deficit’ thinking behind, we also see traces of Hofstee coming back in our current work. We still criticize simplistic individualist conceptualizations of change, as is reflected in today’ attention for ‘social-technical configurations’, ‘system transformation’ and ‘responsible innovation and scaling’. Similarly, Wageningen trained communication scientists are known for their interactional and socio-political conceptualization of both professional and everyday communication and meaning making, and for their interest in the social challenges to facilitating dialogue among different interpretative communities. These sociological perspectives on communication and change have now spread to other Universities in the Netherlands and elsewhere. The continued prevalence of sociological connotations is not surprising if one considers that most of Van den Ban’s successors indeed had a sociological training as well. Clearly, that is not accidental but part and parcel of Hofstee’s legacy.

*Cees Leeuwis is Personal Professor at the Knowledge, Technology and Innovation group, Section Communication, Philosophy and Technology


Hofstee .E.W.  (1953) , Sociologische aspecten van de landbouwvoorlichting. Bulletin 1, Afdeling Sociale en Economische Geografie, Landbouwhogeschool, Wageningen.

Hofstee .E.W.  (1960) Inleidende opmerkingen over de voorlichting: Groepsbenadering in de voorlichting. Voordracht gehouden op de Tuinbouwdagen 1960. Mededelingen van de Directeur van de Tuinbouw, 23, 10,  pp 621-624

Van den Ban, A.W. (1963) Boer en landbouwvoorlichting: De communicatie van nieuwe landbouwmethoden. Pudoc, Wageningen.

Beyond farming women: queering gender, work, and the family farm

In our November blog, prof.dr.ir. Bettina Bock looks back at her 44 years of research around gender and rural development. While issues of gender and agriculture have been on the research agenda since the 1970s, only recently has rural sociology started shifting its attention from the production of traditional gender roles, or the recognition of the role of the women-farmer, to an exploration of the farming cultures of queer farmers.

News article about Prisca Pfammatter’s master thesis, published in the Swiss BauernZeitung on December 10, 2021

Master student Prisca Pfammatter traced back how on traditional family farms in Switzerland, gender is the main axis along which labour is divided and power relationship shaped. Then, drawing from the approaches of performativity theory and weak theory, she investigated how queer farmers understand their farming performances and how these interact and intermingle to create gender and sexual identities that, in turn, inform their farming practices. 

Drawing from ethnographic fieldwork and seven interviews with queer farmer, Pfammatter evidences how through their performances queer farmers not only redefine male and female and masculinity and femininity, but also challenge the gendered division of labour on the farm. As a result, their subversive gender performances have the potential to redefine agriculture as gender-neutral and contribute to a filling of the scholarly gap on how to move agriculture away from the (re)production of the traditional gender binary and its inequalities.

Pfammatter’s research makes three main contributions to the literature. First, it evidences the glaring lack of research around and the invisibility and non-recognition of queer farmers in Switzerland. This lack that is exposed extends to the mechanisms through which farmers are turned away from farming as a livelihood on the basis of their gender, sex and/or sexuality – for example, through the celebration in Switzerland of heterosexual cisgender family farms. Second, the thesis highlights subversive performances and how these challenge the production of binary gender, sex, sexual, and farming identities as well as the attribution of skills on the basis of these socially constructed categories to imply alternative possibilities, roles and futures. Third and finally, it is suggested that farming can be an accommodating space where people can become who they feel they want to be.

Prisca Pfammatter. 2021. Beyond Farming Women: Queering gender, work and family farms, Master Thesis: https://edepot.wur.nl/557032

On 23 – 25 March 2022, the study will be presented at the International German-language conference “Frauen in der Landwirtschaft”.

Contact: Prisca Pfammatter, prisca.pfammatter@gmail.com

75th Anniversary: 48) Research at Rural Sociology: Urban gardens as alternative economic spaces  

Lucie Sovová

My doctoral research explored the role of urban gardens in people’s food provisioning practices, framing them as spaces of diverse food economies operating largely outside the market. In order to understand how gardens work as food sources, I observed the food provisioning practices of 27 households involved in gardening in Brno, Czechia, throughout a period of one year.

The research contributes to the broader discussion about more sustainable ways of food production and consumption, alternative food networks and urban agriculture. Research on sustainable food systems is often biased towards initiatives embedded in market relationships (Rosol 2020). Literature on urban gardening in global North mostly focuses on a specific kind of this practice (community gardens), and it discusses the multiple non-productive functions of these spaces, such as community building (Veen et al. 2016), place-making (Koopmans et al. 2017) or the improvement of urban environment (Timpe et al. 2016). Another stream of literature presents urban gardens as activist spaces questioning the status quo of neoliberal urbanism (Tornaghi 2017, McClintock 2013). This literature recognizes the potential of urban gardens to contribute to localized and sustainable food provisioning (Kosnik 2018). Nonetheless, actual data on food self-provisioning (FSP) in urban areas of the global North remains insufficient (Taylor and Lovell 2013).

Furthermore, some geographical areas seem to be excluded from the debate. FSP is wide spread in the post-socialist countries of Central and Eastern Europe (CEE): 50% inhabitants of the region grow some of their food, compared to 10% in Western European countries (Alber and Kohler 2008). Despite this potential, lessons from CEE are only recently appearing in the literature on urban gardening or alternative food networks. This discrepancy can be explained by an unequal geography of knowledge production, in which CEE rarely figures as a source of original knowledge (Jehlička 2021). In light of the failed experiment of state-socialism, CEE countries are often regarded as underdeveloped and in need of catching up with the West (Kuus 2004, Müller 2019). This transition discourse results in the framing of local informal economies (such as FSP or informal food sharing) as remnants of the past which will be eventually substituted by market economy (Alber and Kohler 2008, Acheson 2008). My research adds to more emancipatory works showing the relevance of these traditional practices for sustainable food provisioning (Jehlička et al 2020, Goszczyński et al., 2019, Mincyte 2012).

My theoretical approach is further inspired by the diverse economies framework (Gibson-Graham 2008) which points out that economic practices are not limited to capitalist markets and monetized transactions, and which calls for attention to alternative, nonmarket and informal economies. This approach is increasingly adapted in the study of more sustainable food provisioning, which recognizes the importance of economic arrangements fostering social justice and environmental wellbeing (Rosol 2020, Tornaghi 2017, Morrow 2019). It is also particularly pertinent for the post-socialist context, seemingly caught between the gloomy heritage of state socialism and the sweeping neoliberalization of the last three decades.

Recent representative surveys show that the share of Czechs involved in FSP remains steady at around 40% of the population, spread equally across income groups and educational levels (Smith and Jehlička 2013, Jehlička and Daněk 2017, Sovová et al 2021). Unpacking these statistics, my research assessed the role of FSP in terms of quantity of food produced as well as its position within broader food provisioning practices and the diverse economic arrangements they constitute. Inspired by the perspective of social metabolism (González de Molina and Toledo 2014, Burger Chakraborty et al. 2016), I used food logs to monitor the flows of fruits and vegetables entering and leaving respondent households. These flows were categorized based on the type of economic arrangements as non-market, alternative-market or market economies. Using conceptual borrowings from social practice theory (Reckwitz 2002, Shove et al. 2012), I further investigated the meanings and competences these material flows entailed.

The field work consisted of four rounds of data collection of one month, spread over the course of one year. During each round, respondents recorded fruits, and vegetables which they produced at their gardens or obtained from other sources. Next to the amount, type and source of food, they also kept track of the use of these foods, i.e. own consumption, preserving, sharing or other forms of distribution. The purpose of the multi-staged research design was to observe seasonal variations and to gradually build theory with the respondents’ participation, accompanying the quantitative accounts with a qualitative understanding of their food provisioning practices.

The results reveal complex interactions between gardens, other food sources, respondents’ eating habits and dietary preferences. FSP plays a central role in gardeners’ food provisioning practices. The gardens provide a significant amount of food, covering on average one third of fruits and vegetables consumed in gardeners’ households – results consistent with a national survey using self-reporting (Sovová et al 2021). In addition, respondents’ experience as producers shapes their food provisioning practices beyond FSP. Home-grown food is seen as the best in terms of taste, freshness and transparent origin. This creates a hierarchy of food sources, in which FSP and other nonmarket and semi-formal food provisioning practices (e.g. receiving home-grown foods from family and friends, foraging or buying directly from producers) are preferred over shopping for food in conventional venues. Alternative food networks typically associated with conscious consumerism (community supported agriculture, farmers’ markets, organic food shops) were marginal in respondents’ shopping practices. Instead, they provisioned food from a number of diverse channels spanning market and nonmarket relations, in which social relations merged with environmental considerations and subjective notions of food quality. The centrality of FSP in these practices also resulted in strong seasonal patterns in both food sources and diets.  

None of the respondents aimed to be fully self-sufficient, nor did they grow their own food in order to save money. Instead, they saw gardening first and foremost as a hobby. The link of this way of food provisioning to leisure, fulfilment, and, broadly speaking, gardeners’ identities, strengthened the position of FSP in gardeners’ food provisioning practices. Similarly, other informal and semi-formal food practices were often grounded in social relations, such as visiting family and acquaintances in the countryside. Gardeners’ food practices also contributed to fostering social relations, for instance when they shared home-grown food with others, a practice which was common for most respondent households. Indeed, FSP is a generous practice in which the joy of sharing and appreciation of home-grown food prevails over expectations of reciprocity or economic considerations, as also documented by Daněk and Jehlička (2017) or Pottinger (2018).

While practiced as a hobby, FSP is mobilized as a food provisioning practice through a number of specific competences. Using the conceptualizations of social practice theory, I interpret FSP as intersection of two sets of practices, those relating to the garden (‘gardening’), and those relating to the kitchen (‘food provisioning’). Based on both quantitative and qualitative data, I identified four different types of relations between gardening and food provisioning. Put simply, some respondents were keen gardeners but did not necessarily integrate their harvest into their diets. Others strived to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables but were not always successful in their gardening efforts. Gardens are multifunctional spaces which hold different meanings for different users. Using the gardens as food sources requires not only gardening and cooking skills, but also coordination and integration of both on a daily as well as seasonal basis.

My research shows that when thinking about sustainable food provisioning, scholars and practitioners need to look beyond market venues and beyond people’s roles as consumers. The search for future-proof urban food systems cannot be restricted to environmentally-minded affluent Westerners, but it needs to consider everyday practices already existing in diverse contexts. I have shown that there is a plethora of under-researched informal food practices whose potential for sustainable provisioning, diverse economic arrangements and mutually beneficial human–nature relations merits further investigation.

Sovová, L. (2020). Grow, share or buy? Understanding the diverse economies of urban gardeners. Wageningen University. https://doi.org/10.18174/519934

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.


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.