Burton, R. J. F., Forney, J., Stock, P., & Sutherland, L.-A. (2020). The Good Farmer. Culture and Identity in Food and Agriculture. London/New York: Routledge.

Book description
Developed by leading authors in the field, this book offers a cohesive and definitive theorisation of the concept of the ‘good farmer’, integrating historical analysis, critique of contemporary applications of good farming concepts, and new case studies, providing a springboard for future research. The concept of the good farmer has emerged in recent years as part of a move away from attitude and economic-based understandings of farm decision-making towards a deeper understanding of culture and symbolism in agriculture. The Good Farmer shows why agricultural production is socially and culturally, as well as economically, important. It explores the history of the concept and its position in contemporary theory, as well as its use and meaning in a variety of different contexts, including landscape, environment, gender, society, and as a tool for resistance. By exploring the idea of the good farmer, it reveals the often-unforeseen assumptions implicit in food and agricultural policy that draw on culture, identity, and presumed notions of what is ‘good’. The book concludes by considering the potential of the good farmer concept for addressing future, emerging issues in agriculture. This book will be of interest to students and scholars of food and agriculture and rural development, as well as professionals and policymakers involved in the food and agricultural industry.

In recent decades, the governance of the environment in agri-food systems has emerged as a crucial challenge. A multiplicity of actors have been enrolled in this process, with the private sector and civil society progressively becoming key components in a global context often described as neoliberalization. Agri-environmental governance (AEG) thus gathers a highly complex assemblage of actors and instruments, with multiple interrelations.

Vetter, T. 2020 Vetter, T. (2020) Social (un-)learning and the legitimization of marginalized knowledge: How a new community of practice tries to ‘kick the grain habit’ in ruminant livestock farming. Journal of Rural Studies, 79, 11-23. doi:

This paper presents a qualitative case study analysis of the Pasture-Fed Livestock Association (PFLA), which seeks to ‘kick the grain habit’ in ruminant farming by promoting and certifying purely pasture-fed production systems. Reading through a social learning perspective, the article first traces back how this association has become established as a new and distinct community of practice (CoP). This entails attending to the process of forming a joint enterprise, the spaces that allow for mutual engagement between its members, and the shared repertoire that has been built over time. Thus, the paper draws on the three key characteristics of Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger’s (1991) conceptualization of communities of practice, which have become widely recognized for providing effective fora for learning and knowledge management, as well as for spurring innovations. More precisely, the paper connects with earlier works invoking this concept within agri-food studies and specifically seeks to contribute to the debates raised around the forms of knowledge that are shared within such communities and their members’ means of interaction that facilitate social learning. Secondly, and in direct relation to this theoretical framing, the paper makes an attempt to refine understandings of social learning. While this remains predominately associated with the acquisition of new knowledge, skills or technologies, the paper argues for a dialectical perspective, which pays equal attention to how people break with past practices. In other words, the paper highlights the role that unlearning plays within new CoPs such as the PFLA. Lastly, the paper explores the wider knowledge networks that are forged as the community matures and seeks to disseminate and legitimize its knowledge beyond its own boundaries. The empirical material of this case study will be useful to inform debates about the potential role that new CoPs can play in bringing marginalized practices, knowledges, and products to peoples’ minds and markets.

Forney, J., Rosin, C., & Campbell, H. (Eds.). (2018). Agri-environmental Governance as an Assemblage: Multiplicity, power, and transformation. . Oxford: Routledge.

Book description
This book addresses this complexity, challenging traditional modes of research and explanation in social science and agri-food studies. To do so, it draws on multiple theoretical and methodological insights, applied to case studies from Asia, Europe, Africa, and the Americas. It elaborates an emergent approach to AEG practices as assemblages, looking at the coming-together of multiple actors with diverse trajectories and objectives. The book lays the foundations for an encompassing theoretical framework that transcends pre-existing categories, as well as promoting innovative methodologies, which integrate the role of social actors – including scientists – in the construction of new assemblages. The chapters define, first, the multiplicities and agencies inherent to AEG assemblages. A second set tackles the question of the politics in AEG assemblages, where political hierarchies interweave with economic power and the search for more democratic and participative approaches. Finally, these insights are developed in the form of assemblage practice and methodology. The book challenges social scientists to confront the shortcomings of existing approaches and consider alternative answers to questions about environmental governance of agri-food systems.

Forney, J. (2016). Blind spots in agri-environmental governance: some reflections and suggestions from Switzerland. Review of Agricultural, Food and Environmental Studies, 1-13. doi:10.1007/s41130-016-0017-2

Attempts of making our food systems more sustainable have (partly) failed. Food production still contributes significantly to biodiversity losses, global warming and depletion of natural resources. Based on the postulation that this failure in the governance of environmental issues in agri-food systems relates notably to social and cultural aspects, this paper explores the literature in the social sciences looking for explanations. A first statement is that research around agri-environmental governance (AEG) issues remains globally split into two subgroups, one focusing on public policies and the other on the civil society or market aspects of environmental certification, with very little exchange or transversal analysis between the two. Drawing on the literature and on long term fieldwork and research in Switzerland, I identify three dimensions of AEG that open new paths towards more sustainable food systems: an encompassing approach of the food system; the encouragement of collective knowledge creation and the promotion of autonomy. Joining other emerging scholarships, this paper calls for developments in the research on AEG that produce encompassing theoretical frameworks, which transcends pre-exiting categories in order to allow new conceptualisation of governance practices in complex or hybrid systems. The integration of the food, knowledge and autonomy dimensions should help in creating innovative and transformative governance instruments.

Environmental governance; Food system; Autonomy; Knowledge; Social transformation