Convention Theory in Anglophone agri-food studies: French legacies, circulation and new perspectives

Emmanuelle Cheyns & Stefano Ponte (2018)

In Allaire, G. (Ed.), Daviron, B. (Ed.). (2019). Ecology, Capitalism and the New Agricultural Economy. London: Routledge.

Abstract. The French school of Convention Theory (CT) has influenced various branches of agri-food studies in the past two decades, as part of a wider trend in the Anglophone social sciences (Wilkinson, 1997; Raikes et al., 2000; Biggart and Beamish, 2003; Stark, 2011; Diaz-Bone, 2012; du Gay and Morgan, 2013; Barnett, 2014). Convention Theory in Anglophone agri-food studies has attracted attention particularly in sociology, economic geography, regional studies, and international political economy, partly inspiring the analysis of the ‘quality turn’, alternative food networks, and various forms of coordination and governance in global value chains. The diffusion of Convention Theory in this literature took place particularly after the publication in English of Worlds of Production (Storper and Salais, 1997), The New Spirit of Capitalism (Boltanski and Chiapello, 1999 [2005]) and On Justification (Boltanski and Thévenot, 1991 [2006]). More recently, the related ‘regimes of engagement’ approach, drawing from French pragmatic sociology (Thévenot, 2006, 2007), has also started attracting attention in this field. In this chapter, we examine how Convention Theory (also known as l’économie des conventions) was introduced in Anglophone2 agri-food studies, what results and patterns of diffusion have ensued, what originalities, divergences or similarities have developed in comparison to the French school, and perspectives for further developments. In the first section we explain the origins and filiations with the original French school of Convention Theory. In the second section we examine a collection of 51 articles to explain how Convention Theory has spread to Anglophone agri-food studies, and what issues have been addressed. In the third section we discuss similarities and divergences that characterise the Anglophone literature in comparison to the French school, and highlight new issues and approaches it introduced. Finally, we discuss the extension of this programme towards the related ‘regimes of engagement’ approach, which evolved from French pragmatic sociology.

Link to the book

L’édition française (2017)