Historical, relational and interactive perspectives in food sovereignty research

Christina Schiavoni

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperAcademic


Within the growing body of scholarly work on food sovereignty is an emerging consensus that it takes on different meanings from one context to another and is best understood as a process in and of itself. But if food sovereignty is to be understood as a “living, breathing process,” what are the implications for how we go about researching it? This question is further complicated by the formal entry of the state into food sovereignty politics, and the blurring of the lines between food sovereignty as a social movement aspiration and as a national policy objective, which presents additional challenges for researchers. This piece points to possible directions forward for national-level food sovereignty studies, as part of a rapidly expanding and deepening agenda for food sovereignty research more broadly. Rather than an enquiry into food sovereignty per se, this piece is about efforts toward food sovereignty, partly to address a tendency in the literature and political debates to conflate the two. This is thus an investigation into food sovereignty construction, meaning how food sovereignty is being articulated and attempted, as well as contested—including resisted, refracted, or reversed—in a given setting. Tackling the puzzle of food sovereignty construction requires interlinked analytical lenses that address the weaknesses of existing dominant and/or emerging approaches within the literature. First is a lens that allows us to understand the social structures and institutions that condition the politics of food over time and the ways in which the agency of relevant state and societal actors has been, and continues to be, enhanced and exercised, or not, in the political contestation over the food system. Second is a lens that allows us to capture the process-oriented nature of food sovereignty—that is, the ways in which the very meanings and attempted practices of food sovereignty are being dynamically and contentiously shaped and reshaped over time. Third is a lens that allows us to analyze how actors within the state and in society are dialectically linked, shaping the construction of food sovereignty through their interactions. Taken together these lenses form a historical, relational, and interactive (h-r-i) approach to food sovereignty research. Such an approach is applied to the case of Venezuela as one of a growing number of countries where food sovereignty has been adopted into state policy and among the longest-running experiments in its attempted construction. Concluding reflections are shared on the extent to which this framework can help us understand the current conjunctural crisis facing Venezuela’s food system.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2016

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