PhD opportunity at Lancaster Environment Centre: Can food sovereignty be up-scaled? The scope, limits and politics of community initiatives in the context of global food security

PhD opportunity at Lancaster Environment Centre, Lancaster Univeristy (UK)
Deadline for Applications: 14 February 2016
Start: October 2016

Info and on-line application:

For further information or informal discussion about the position, please contact G. Bettini
or R. Whittle .

The sustainability of food systems is one of the most pressing global challenges at the intersection of environmental and developmental policy, and has attracted a vast amount of research. Currently, such research falls into two broad camps. On the one hand, there is a large body of work concerned with developing food security at the global scale. This research tends to place a strong emphasis on science and technology “solutions” and the search for top-down interventions in biophysical, agricultural and economic systems. However, recent years have seen the emergence a contrasting body of literature concerned with the development of ‘food sovereignty’. This work, which has strong roots in critical social science, places the emphasis on giving control of food systems back to farmers and communities. Consequently, proposed interventions tend to be low tech, diverse and bottom-up in character. However, while proponents of such approaches tend to emphasise their value in transforming power imbalances within the food system, critics dismiss them because they are often seen to be purely local in scale and thus of limited value for addressing global food insecurity.

The two approaches often talk past each other, and few studies seriously engage with both. With this project you will fill this crucial knowledge gap, combining exciting empirical work with community groups at the cutting edge of action on food sovereignty with in-depth theoretical engagement. The key objective is to assess the potential of community food projects to foster food sovereignty. In particular, you will explore the scope and limitations of their engagement with transnational initiatives, economic processes, policies. To this end, the perspective of polycentric governance will help in understanding processes and entities that cannot be placed in any of the boxes (international, national, regional or local) envisioned by traditional understandings of scale. The aim is thus to generate a better understanding of the scope and limitations of novel forms of action and governance within food systems (with unconventional combinations of private and governmental actors, networks, community groups, etc.) which transnational initiatives bring to life, and of which community engagement is an important ingredient.

The project combines theoretical/conceptual elaboration with qualitative empirical research with community-level groups whose actions are focused on creating food and climate security for their locales (for example, Transition Town initiatives, the Incredible Edibles movement and Sustainable Food Cities groups) AND that engage with transnational groups such as La Via Campesina, The Transition Network and the Slow Food Movement. The choice of the specific case study will be negotiated with the supervisors at the beginning of the project.


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