PhD thesis defended, with the permission of the Faculty of Agriculture and Forestry of the University of Helsinki, on 15 September 2017, under the supervision of Dr. Leena Lankoski.
Abstract. This doctoral dissertation examines the phenomenon of alternative food networks (AFNs) from the perspective of food system sustainability. AFNs are seen as a promising response to the sustainability issues associated with the conventional food system, but have also attracted criticism. Criticisms include uncertainty over AFNs’ actual sustainability impacts; arguments that many AFNs are hybrid rather than purely alternative; and that their impact on food system sustainability is limited, due to their marginal position. In this dissertation, comprising three original research articles and an introductory section, I explore the above-mentioned criticisms to advance understanding of AFNs’ sustainability. I seek to i) understand what sustainability claims we can make for AFNs based on their characteristics, ii) to develop understanding of AFNs’ hybrid nature and their complex relationship to the conventional food system through empirically examining the negotiation of acceptable practice in AFNs; and iii) understand how this negotiation can be understood to drive wider food system sustainability transitions by shaping norms. The main theoretical framework used is convention theory. This theory examines the deployment of different notions of worth in coordinating economic activity, as actors navigate in different situations, and shape these situations through their negotiation of acceptable practices. I also apply convention theory to the framework of sustainability transitions, to frame the examination of norm-shaping within the niche of AFNs. The empirical focus of this study is an often-overlooked AFN actor, alternative food retailers, involving a qualitative, multiple case study research covering nine cases of alternative food retail in Finland and the UK. My findings suggest that AFNs may potentially contribute to sustainability, but their sustainability should be critically assessed on a caseby-case basis. The findings also suggest a plurality of shared ideals in the domain of AFNs and several areas of tension in AFN practice that AFN actors must navigate. In doing this, the actors may also shape the norms and ideals in the sector. The conceptual examination contributes a clarified overview of AFNs’ potential sustainability impacts and limitations, and provides a practical framework to assess different food networks’ sustainability. The empirical analysis challenges certain underlying assumptions in the previous literature, and contributes a new understanding of AFNs’ hybridity, its causes and consequences, and the challenges involved in adopting sustainable practices. The analysis can help practitioners understand consumer considerations, and opportunities and obstacles to more sustainable practices. It also deepens the understanding of how new norms are negotiated in the sector, and suggests an alternative view of AFNs’ potential to drive change, besides scaling up and gaining a larger share of the food market. It uncovers the deeper ideals that the alternative food retailers promote, and how these are different from or similar to conventional food system norms and ideals. This understanding can also help practitioners in their norm-shaping work. Theoretically, the study contributes a more dynamic application of convention theory to agri-food studies. The use of convention theory contributes a new understanding of the human and cultural aspect of sustainability transitions. AFNs are ultimately both more and less than their promise. They are not automatically sustainable, or always purely alternative, but can challenge the conventional food system. Their indirect impact on the wider food system may be greater than suggested by their small size and reach. AFNs operate in a dialogue between different parties, and the general direction of this dialogue is instrumental in shaping what AFNs might be or become, and the achievement of sustainability in AFNs.
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Agriculture and Human Values. Online first.
Abstract. This article explores the role of conventions in the normalization of cocoa production in Ecuadorian Amazonia. Convention theory provides key theoretical tools for understanding coordination among agents. However, conventions must be understood as cultural constructions with a strong Eurocentric background that must be substantially modified in originally non-European contexts. A creative application of convention theory can partially overcome bifurcation among Western and non-Western rationalities. First, it shows that Western values and forms of coordination are heterogeneous, conflictive and opposing. Second, it provides key insight for understanding the transformation of subaltern subjectivities generated from non-Western rationalities that are closely associated with subjugated knowledges. Third, in applying the concept of compromise, it allows one to understand cognitive hybridization and coordination among indigenous and Western agents and thus the complexities of processes of resistance, subversion and empowerment carried by indigenous communities. This article is focused on how cocoa production in Ecuadorian Amazonia serves as an example of the confluence and coordination of indigenous (using the concept of “Good Living” or Sumak Kawsay) and Western conventions. The assertion of Sumak Kawsay is understood as a relevant transformation of Ecuadorian post-colonial relations. It is shown that relevant industrial upgrading processes are justified by, among others, Sumak Kawsay repertoires. Additionally, dialogue on knowledge and compromise among conventions, and especially concerning Sumak Kawsay and the market, have been key facets shaping the development of a differentiated quality strand that has promoted relevant changes in the subaltern positioning of indigenous farmers in the cocoa commodity chain.
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Virginie Amilien & Unni Kjaernes (2017)
British Food Journal, 119(4), p. 952-966
Purpose: This paper is based on three social scientific studies of animal welfare and local food products in Norway, of which two focused on sheep in particular. It addresses the widespread belief that Norwegian sheep farming is “the best” but is confronted with a meat industry that emphasises economic efficiency. A few years after a new Norwegian law on animal welfare acknowledged animals as sentient beings came into force in 2010 (LOVdata, 2009), the purpose of this paper is to better understand ongoing debates on the welfare of sheep by exploring how sheep welfare is understood and regulated in Norway.
Design/methodology/approach: The theoretical framework draws on convention theory, especially referring to the four “possible worlds of production” (Salais/Storper 1993). The authors argue that animal welfare may be analysed in parallel to product quality, focusing on three major perspectives of sheep welfare: animal treatment, product quality, and an abstract conceptualisation in public discourse. The empirical analysis is based on interviews with key players in the sector and central documents.
Findings: Convention theory points to several general difficulties in reaching an agreement on what is “good quality” and welfare. First, the authors find difficulty in how to implement new regulatory conceptualisations with dominant ways of understanding welfare within the industry. Second, the idealised images of sheep welfare of an immaterial possible world dominating public discourse have very little interaction with the real world of farms and abattoirs.
Originality/value: This paper suggests that rather than addressing and handling the potential tension between the legal recognition of animal as sentient being and the economic demands of the industry, key actors keep the potentially conflicting understandings apart in different “worlds of production” (Salais/Storper 1993). Nevertheless, the authors observe that interactions between possible worlds, as well as translation from one possible world to another, not only could be promising but would be fundamental to concretise improvements in the real world.
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Daniel Coq-Huelva, Javier Sanz-Cañada & Florencio Sánchez-Escobar (2017)
Journal of Rural Studies, 55, pp. 112–121
• Local Food Systems are not always homogeneous places in which agents have similar interests and values.
• Conflict is an essential feature of processes of social construction of quality inside Local Food Systems.
• Convention Theory offers a set of key concepts for approaching agents’ coordination and conflict inside Local Food Systems.
• Compromises are essential for understanding social construction and competition between organic and local olive oil farmers.
• Compromises are supported by strong discursive mobilisation, being clashes one of their major distinctive elements.
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Francesca Galli, Francesca Venturi, Fabio Bartolini, Oriana Gava, Angela Zinnai, Sanmartin Chiara, Gianpaolo Andrich & Gianluca Brunori (2017)
International Food and Agribusiness Management Review, 20(4), p. 533-552
Abstract. The concern for the quality of food, its composition and contribution towards nutrition and health is widespread among public and private food system actors. The increasing interest in locally integrated supply chains leads to reconsider the configuration of the food system in relation to sustainability and health outcomes. This article focuses on the relationship between processing practices and nutritional value in the wheat-tobread sector, illustrated by a case study on the Tuscan Bread Protected Designation of Origin (PDO). By adopting a food system perspective, the case study shows how the different actors have mobilized to respond to multiple drivers of change. A mixed research method approach is adopted to illustrate the relationship between processing practices and nutritional value outcomes: practice-based indicators for each step of the chain are complemented with performance-based indicators of the chemical, physical and sensorial profile of Tuscan Bread PDO. Furthermore, the implications on food system governance of a differentiation strategy based on territorial origin and enhanced nutrition are discussed.
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Eva Parga-Dans & Pablo Alonso Gonzales (2017)
In: Geoforum 85. Online first.
Abstract. Our review explores the role of quality conventions that have emerged since the ‘quality turn’ in the food sector. By examining how the ‘quality turn’ contributes to transforming the wine sector, it asks whether the labeling systems seek to certify the quality of productive practices (informative function) or are intended to create imaginaries of quality as a differentiated business market strategy (symbolic function). After discussing relevant literature in geography and related fields, this review uses two emblematic examples from the wine sector to argue for the need to move beyond the marketing of quality to deepen the analysis and understanding of quality. This analytic insight questions the viability and usefulness of quality conventions aimed at differentiation, territorial development, with a focus on markets with high added value, and argues for the need to open new lines of research and policy in this sphere.
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Samuel Esteban Rodríguez (2017)
Boletín de la Asociación de Geógrafos Españoles 74, pp. 483-513.
Abstract. This study is a comparative analysis of the Spanish Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) wine-producing regions between the production years of 2001–2002 and 2012–2013. The worlds of production theory was used as a framework for the classification of the different PDO regions based on their production characteristics and their target market. Use was made of a series of quantitative indicators related to technology and market type. Once the classification was made, it was verified whether this adjusted to the concepts of the theoretical model, and a subsequent analysis was performed on the results of each production year and the evolution taking place in the industry. Between 2001–2002 and 2013–2013 an increase was reported in product specialization and customization in a large number of PDO regions, which have shifted to become a part of the interpersonal world of production. In spite of this, among the PDO regions that had retained their model within the industrial world of production, adjustments were observed directed at improving their position by means of competitive pricing. The market world and the innovation world are less extended, despite legislative changes encouraging diversity within the industry.
Article in Spanish
Article in English (without reference list)
PhD thesis defended the 29th may 2017, under the supervision of Sigfrid Quack and Christine Trampusch, Universität zu Köln
Why did Fair Trade take momentum in some industries within certain national contexts and not in others? In this thesis, I apply the arguments of H. C. White, Tilly, Fligstein and McAdam in order to understand the success and failure of applying similar standards to various product markets through one certificate. Four national settings and seven product categories are compared – coffee, cocoa, bananas, sugar, rice, wine, and honey in Austria, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the USA are chosen and analyzed between the years 2002 and 2011. The effects of the discourse and structural preconditions (i.e. oligopolies) are analyzed in concert through the application of fuzzy set Qualitative Comparative Analysis (fsQCA). I investigate the role of firms and social movements in the process of change. Two equifinal paths to change in markets are theorized and analyzed. One of those paths is driven by institutional entrepreneurship, the other by social movements. The findings of the fsQCA back the perspective of social movements and institutional entrepreneurship as substitutive drivers of change in markets and the two paths. Less successful attempts to penetrate markets though certification lack the discourse and the focus of single firms or entrepreneurs within the discourse. In addition, the evidence pinpoints to changing processes over time and the need to move beyond static analyses. This study contributes to the current state of the art by offering a comparative perspective on the effect of social movements and institutional entrepreneurship on mature markets. In this vein, fsQCA is applied deductively and the concepts and paths are disentangled in a compelling manner. INUS conditions are theorized as constitutive parts of paths to change. Finally, this study compares the opportunities and fallacies of penetrating markets through certification in general – and Fair Trade certification in particular.
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Stefano Ponte (2016)
Journal of Rural Studies, 44, pp. 12-23.
Abstract. In the past two decades, convention theory has been applied in various branches of agro-food studies, providing analytical and theoretical insight for examining alternative food networks, coordination and governance in agro-food value chains, and the so-called ‘quality turn’ in food production and consumption. In this article, I examine convention theory applications in the Anglophone literature on agro-food studies through the review of 51 relevant contributions. I highlight how CT has helped explain different modes of organization and coordination of agro-food operations in different places, and how it has provided new venues of approaching quality – in view of understanding how exchange of agro-food products takes place and with what social and power dynamics. I trace two main analytical streams of this literature: one focussing on agro-food adaptations of the ‘worlds of production’ framework (Salais and Storper, 1992; Storper and Salais, 1997); and another applying the ‘orders of worth’ approach of Boltanski and Thevenot (1991) and further elaborations of ‘quality conventions’. After tracing broad trajectories and the significance of new developments in this literature, I highlight its current limitations and suggest some directions for future research.
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Eugenio Climent-López & José Luis Sánchez-Hernández (2015)
Géographie, économie, société, 17, p. 25-50.
Le cadre théorique des conventions et des mondes de production permet de comprendre les tendances actuelles dans le système agroalimentaire. La conceptualisation de la qualité des aliments, l’émergence de réseaux alimentaires alternatifs et les processus d’innovation dans le système agroalimentaire ont tous été étudiés à partir de la typologie des conventions et des mondes de production. Cette littérature est essentiellement qualitative et repose sur des études de cas. Cet article présente une approche quantitative permettant de mesurer les conventions et de situer les producteurs de denrées alimentaires dans les différents mondes de production. La base empirique est un échantillon de douze AOC viticoles espagnoles. En utilisant des sources de données officielles ou ouvertes, vingt-huit indicateurs ont été définis pour mesurer les six types de conventions dans chaque AOC, et dix-huit ont été choisis pour identifier les mondes de production. Cette méthode montre la contribution de l’analyse quantitative, face au discours qualitatif dominant et suggère que d’autres études comparatives peuvent servir aux entreprises agroalimentaires pour soutenir leurs décisions stratégiques.
Convention theory in economic geography: a perspective provided by the application to the Spanish wine industry
The theoretical framework of conventions and worlds of production provides useful support to understand the current trends in the agro-food system. The conceptualization of food quality, the emergence of alternative food networks and the innovation processes in the food system have all been addressed by using the typologies of conventions and worlds of production. This body of academic literature is mostly qualitative and based on case studies. This article discusses a quantitative approach to the measurement of conventions and the allocation of food producers to different worlds of production. The empirical support comes from a sample of twelve Spanish PDO wine districts. By using official or open-data sources, twenty-eight indicators have been designed to measure the six kinds of conventions in each wine district, and eighteen ones have been chosen to identify worlds of production. This methodology shows the contribution of quantitative analysis to the prevailing qualitative discourse and suggests that further comparative studies may be useful for food cluster partners to support strategic decisions.
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Thèse soutenue le 3 décembre 2014 sous la direction d’Olivier Favereau
Madagascar souffre d’une insuffisance chronique en riz, aliment de base de la population. La filière peine à sortir de la dépendance aux importations et encore moins à développer les exportations. Nous tentons de voir en quoi ces contre-performances reflètent une « crise de la qualité » dans les échanges à l’aide du modèle de marché de Harrison White (2002) qui analyse la notion de viabilité des échanges autour des questions de qualité. Celle-ci passe par l’existence d’un ordre de qualité du riz (paddy ou blanchi) fondé sur les perceptions ressenties par les acteurs. Pour cela, les intermédiaires de la filière ont à définir une orientation de leurs activités en amont ou en aval selon la localisation de la plus grande incertitude sur la qualité du riz, pour saisir, et être en accord avec, les perceptions de la qualité par les acteurs concernés. L’analyse des échanges dans l’Alaotra-Mangoro donne les résultats suivants. 1/ Trois circuits de commercialisation du riz sont théoriquement viables. Le circuit « dominant » et le circuit « à la marge » sont dominés respectivement par une convention de qualité « domestique » basée sur la qualité nutritive du paddy et une autre « industrielle » basée sur la qualité esthétique du riz blanchi. Sur le circuit « transitionnel », coexistent les deux conventions de qualité, « domestique » en amont et « industrielle » en aval. 2/ L’ordre de qualité sur ce circuit résulterait d’un compromis entre conventions matérialisé par un référentiel de qualité esthétique et nutritive du riz (paddy et blanchi). 3/ La reconnaissance de ces deux conventions de qualité et de la nécessité d’un compromis entre celles-ci rendrait les échanges viables et lèverait l’actuelle « crise de la qualité » au sein de la filière.
Economic Approach of Input Quality : application to the rice value chain in the Alaotra-Mangoro region (Madagascar)
Madagascar suffers from a chronic insufficiency of rice, the staple food of the population.The value chain is struggling to emerge from dependence on imports and even less to develop exports.We try to see how these poor performances reflect a « quality crisis » in rice exchanges by means of themarket model of Harrison White (2002) and its concept of market “viability” based on quality issues.To be viable, market needs to be governed by an order of quality defined by perceptions on ricequality from actors at play. The intermediaries have then to orient upstream or downstream theiractivities depending on where the greatest uncertainty on quality is in order to take into accountquality perceptions by the actors involved. Rice exchanges analysis in the Alaotra-Mangoro gives thefollowing results. 1 / Three rice marketing channels are theoretically viable. The “dominating”marketing channel and the “marginal” one are respectively ruled by a « domestic » quality conventionaround the nutritious quality of paddy and an « industrial » one around the esthetic quality of milledrice. Both quality conventions exist on the « transitional » channel: the « domestic » convention is sharedby upstream and the « industrial » one by downstream. 2 / The order of quality on this last marketingchannel would be a compromise between the two existing conventions and is materialized by areferential of esthetic and nutritious quality. 3 / The recognition of these two quality conventions andof the need for compromise between them would enable rice exchanges to be viable and then wouldend the « quality crisis » at the origin of the poor performances of the Malagasy rice value chain.