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Food System Transitions

Posted on | February 8, 2015 | Comments Off

WG22 – Food System Transitions: Cities and the Strategic Management of Food Practices

Socio-technical systems like food are composed of and shaped by the everyday practices that are performed in specific places. Transitioning large-scale systems involves changing the practices that constitute and reproduce them. This is true of the food system, which is enacted by the repetitive performances of everyday food activities (e.g., shopping, cooking, discarding) in communities.

Cities are uniquely positioned to change food practices, and by doing so transition socio-technical regimes like food to sustainability. Cities are tightly bundled agglomerations of everyday practices, and are the stages on which healthier and more sustainable practices are performed, repeatedly, until they become normal, everyday activities. Municipal policies, programs, and infrastructure influence practices, while activists, spiritual leaders, media, teachers and other urban thought leaders shape our understanding of practices. By strategically influencing food practices, cities can potentially advance public health, improve the environment and economy, and ultimately transform the food system.

This working group explores the potential for cities to advance transitions through the strategic management of everyday food practices, arguing that a social practice framework is a more productive lens to examine the urban levers of food system change than transition theories that emphasize the disruptive potential of semi-protected niches. We will investigate the extent to which theories of social practice shed light on how changes in food practices transform the food system, the role of cities in fostering transformation through the support of sustainable food practices, and methods to map practices and the elements that shape them.

We intend to explore how cities and civil society groups have facilitated the adoption, implementation, and normalization of practices through changes to the elements of practices – the meanings attributed to a practice, its material dimensions, and the competences required for practitioners to engage in the practice. We will examine food practices that represent changes in local practices that affect different segments of the dominant food regime (e.g., urban agriculture, shopping at farmers markets, food recycling), which will illustrate how city governments and city-based civil society groups have influenced the adoption, implementation and normalization of sustainable food practices. We invite presentations of specific cases, proposed methodologies for food practice scholarship, and discussions about the social practice framework.


Nevin Cohen, Ph.D., Associate Professor, City University of New York School of Public Health

Rositsa Ilieva, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Fellow, The New School

Arnold van der Valk, Ph.D., Professor, Wageningen University


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