Regeneration at a distance from the state: From radical imaginaries to alternative practices in Dutch farming

Stephen Leitheiser*, Ina Horlings, Alex Franklin, Elen-Maarja Trell

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)
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Modern industrial agriculture is increasingly confronted with social and environmental problems and contradictions. Glaring problems are widely acknowledged, but have not spurred a major shift towards a sustainable agricultural future. Meanwhile, many individual citizens, farmers and collective initiatives are, themselves, already busy navigating towards solutions. The role of ‘ordinary’ citizens, small-scale farmers, and alternative food networks in building food sovereignty has been widely discussed in the literature, and is acknowledged by scholars as crucial in navigating towards sustainable and agroecological food systems (Anderson et al., 2021; Duncan et al., 2020; Marsden et al., 2018; Vivero-Pol et al., 2019). Despite this potential, the practices of these individuals and groups have not yet been able to gain significant traction as part of building a broader, systemic political alternative in public discourse and policy making (Desmarais et al., 2017; IPES-Food, 2019; Marsden et al., 2018; Van der Ploeg, 2020). Instead, they have persisted in the margins with minimal support or recognition from governments and scientific institutions (Anderson, 2019; Anderson and Bruil, 2021; Vanloqueren and Baret, 2009). Mainstream political debates on the direction of food system change too often overlook these ‘seeds of change’ that are scattered all around them, dormant, and waiting for the right conditions to grow into robust alternatives.

Agrarian political economy has long served as an important lens through which the com-plex processes that shape food systems can be understood (Buttel, 2001; Friedmann, 1993; Friedmann and McMichael, 1989). Traditionally, this scholarship has focused primarily on a critical analysis of the ways in which market dynamics and the modern state structure the organisation of agri-food systems (Bernstein, 2017; Tilzey, 2019). As food-system-related crises intensify, some scholars have identified a need to expand political economy scholarship beyond expert analysis to include a role of co-constructing, or ‘co-theorising’ (Carolan, 2013) alternatives, with citizens engaged in political praxis (Duncan et al., 2019; Levkoe et al., 2020). That is, in other words, a more post-structuralist agrarian political economy (and ecol-ogy), grounded in critical dialogue with social movements, civil society organizations, and citizens who are confronting norms and conventions in practice and building alternatives (Leff, 2015).

Following from the need to broaden and connect such perspectives, this paper combines a ‘zoomed-out’ political economic analysis of Dutch agriculture with a more ‘zoomed-in’ em-pirical exploration of farmers working to build new food systems from the ground up. The main questions we address are: how do new entrant proto-regenerative farmers (a term which we explain below) in the Netherlands imagine and engage in the construction of regenerative socio-ecological relationships? What strategies do farmers use to carve out spaces of regenera-tion?
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)699-725
Number of pages27
JournalSociologia Ruralis
Issue number4
Early online date31-Aug-2022
Publication statusPublished - Oct-2022


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