CfP NGM 2018: Acting local, catalyzing global?

This session seeks to explore the rise, the governance and the role of place-based bottom-up initiatives as potential agents of change in the transition to a more sustainable and just food system. In recent decades, sustainability has been increasingly incorporated into political agendas at a variety of spatial scales (Gibbs andLintz, 2016). At the urban and regional level, these agendas have largely taken two forms: on the one hand, top-down, consensus-based policy-making, defined by attempts to ‘green’ economic growth and development ( Jonas and While, 2007;Rosol et al., 2017), which are increasingly criticized as post-political, elite driven and unimaginative (Swyngedouw, 2007; Kaika, 2017; Leitheiser andFollman, forthcoming). On the other hand, community groups and citizens have taken a more active role in sustainability-related projects often with a focus on local level change and impact (Boonstra, 2015; Meijer, 2018; Ulug and Trell, forthcoming).

The emerging food-related initiatives and collectives attempt to reconstruct unsustainable practices and systems, often with careful/caring attitude and innovative approaches towards a (local) environmental and community health and resilience (see for instance the example of the Free Café in Groningen, In this context, food can be framed as both, a nexus to explore how spatial and social innovations are materialized, and as a lever for addressing global problems at the local level (Wekerle, 2004; Moragues-Faus and Morgan, 2015). Despite the increasing number of bottom-up food initiatives acting locally to catalyze a much-needed global food system change (e.g. FAO, 2011; Graziano da Silva,2015), it remains to be seen if and how spatially-fragmented food initiatives can transcend the status of being “just local” or “just alternative” (Marsden and Franklin, 2013, p. 640). The question becomes: how and to what extent can bottom-up local initiatives act as catalysts for a (global) sustainable food transition, and in doing so repoliticize sustainability?

Following from the above, in this session we seek any theoretical, methodological and/or empirical contributions drawn from either preliminary or fully-fledged research that critically address (1) the role and potential of (local) citizen action/collectives in stimulating and influencing a transition towards more sustainable food systems and (2) the ways that citizen initiatives and place-based food collectives can act as“living indicators” (Kaika, 2017) for critically rethinking environmental and social sustainability and power relations in food system (change).

Topics and questions of interest include but are not limited to:

  • Urban food initiatives / collectives as an entry point into critically rethinking urban environmental and social sustainability and power relations.
  • What potentials exist within spatially-fragmented food initiatives for convergence around wider social movements of food democracy, food sovereignty, food transition, etc.?
  • How do food initiatives alter preconceptions and relationships in urban and rural landscapes and perceive and produce “locality”?
  • To what extent are local sustainable food projects place-based or replicable in other social and spatial contexts?
  • Place-based action and ‘living indicators’ for urgent sustainable food issues (cf. Kaika,2017)
  • How can bottom-up sustainable food-related citizen projects be facilitated, enabled, or empowered by local or multi-level governments and policies? What are the challenges in this process?
  • The external limitations (national austerity, trade laws, regulatory frameworks, etc.) and their linked to ephemerality or fatigue in food-related citizen projects?
  • The role of dissent in food system change: how do forms of dissent materialize through civil society action and what are the implications for participatory governance frameworks and for food system change?
  • Rethinking responsibilities and rights for sustainable food system
  • To what extent do bottom-up sustainable food system innovations develop new capacities and viable sustainable alternatives to the current food system?
  • Any other relevant contributions that relate to the umbrella question of this session:how and to what extent can bottom-up local initiatives act as catalysts for a(global) sustainable food transition, and in doing so repoliticize sustainability?

Please submit abstracts by e-mail to Ciska Ulug ( Elen-Maarja Trell ( by Jan 10, 2019.

Abstracts should be no longer than 250 words, in plain text, and be saved in Word format.Please adhere to the following format:

  • Name of the session
  • Title of the paper (lowercase letters)
  • Author’s name and e-mail
  • Author’s institutional affiliation
  • Abstract

Authors of accepted abstracts will be notified by January 15, 2019.Accepted abstracts will be published on the conference webpage:


  • Elen-Maarja Trell, Department of Spatial Planning and Environment, University of Groningen
  • Ciska Ulug, Department of Spatial Planning and Environment, University of Groningen
  • Stephen Leitheiser, Department of Spatial Planning and Environment, University of Groningen

References for inspiration:

Boonstra, B. (2015). Planning Strategies in an Age of Active Citizenship. PhD dissertation. PhD Series InPlanning: Groningen.

Brombin, A. (2015). Faces of sustainability in Italian ecovillages: food as a ‘contact zone’. International Journal of Consumer Studies, 39, 468-477.

FAO (2011). Save and grow, a new paradigm of agriculture – a policymaker’s guide to the sustainable intensification of smallholder crop production. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations. [online] Available at:

Gibbs, D., & Lintz, G. (2016). Editorial: Environmental Governance of Urban and Regional Development – Scales and Sectors, Conflict and Cooperation. Regional Studies50(6), 925–928.

Graziano da Silva, J. (2015). Agriculture must change – FAO Director-General speaks at International Forum on Agriculture and Climate Change, Paris 20 February [online] Available at:

Ilieva, R. (2016). Urban Food Planning: Seeds of transition in the Global North. 1st Edition. London: Routledge.

Jonas, A. E. G., & While, A. (2007). Greening the Entrepreneurial City?: Looking for Spaces of Sustainability Politics in the Competitive City. In R. Krueger & D. Gibbs (Eds.), The Sustainable Development Paradox: Urban Political Economy in the United States and Europe (pp. 123–159). New York: The Guilford Press.

Kaika, M. (2017). ‘Don’t call me resilient again!’: the New Urban Agenda as immunology … or … what happens when communities refuse to be vaccinated with ‘smart cities’ and indicators. Environment and Urbanization29(1), 89–102.

Kneafsey, M., Owen, L., Bos, E., Broughton, K. & Lennartsson, M. (2017). Capacity building for food justice in England: the contribution of charity-led community food initiatives. Local Environment, 22(5), 621-634.

Leitheiser and Follmann (forthcoming).  Potential for the Political In Cologne’s Smart City Platform?

Marsden, T., & Franklin, A. (2013). Replacing neoliberalism: theoretical implications of the rise of local food movements. Local Environment18(5), 636–641.

Meijer, M. (2018). Community-led, Government-fed and Informal: Exploring planning from below in depopulating regions across Europe. PhD Thesis, Radboud University Nijmegen.

Moragues-Faus, A., & Morgan, K. (2015). Reframing the foodscape: the emergent world of urban food policy. Environment and Planning A47(7), 1558–1573.

Pudup, M.B., (2007). It takes a garden: Cultivating citizen-subjects in organized garden projects. Geoforum, 39, 1228-1240.

Rosol, M., Béal, V., & Mössner, S. (2017). Greenest cities? The (post-)politics of new urban environmental regimes. Environment and Planning A49(8), 1710–1718.

Swyngedouw, E. (2007). Impossible “Sustainability” and the Postpolitical Condition. In R. Krueger & D. Gibbs (Eds.), The Sustainable Development Paradox: Urban Political Economy in the United States and Europe (pp. 13–40). New York: The Guilford Press.

Ulug, C. and Trell, E.M. (forthcoming). “It’s not really about food, it’s also about food”: Urban collective action, community economies, and autonomous food systems at the Free Café.

Wekerle, G. R. (2004). Food Justice Movements. Journal of Planning Education and Research23(4), 378–386.


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