SPRU - Science Policy Research Unit

Healing from Enclosure: A Political Agroecology of agri-food knowledges in Belgium

Modern agricultural and food sciences are providing the means for higher levels of food production but are badly equipped to address the myriad of socioeconomic and environmental problems that characterise agri-food systems (the business of producing food) around the globe. These issues include – but are by no means limited to –  uneven development, hunger, public health problems, soil depletion, pollution, loss of agrobiodiversity and livelihood destruction.

A new EU-funded project ‘Healing from Enclosure’ seeks to examine and address the relationships that exist between agri-food systems and the messy politics that influences the production, circulation and use of knowledge. The project is led by Dr Barbara Van Dyck (Marie Sklodowska-Curie Research Fellow), with support from Professor Andy Stirling.

The study will explore these tensions in two ways: firstly, by examining the interconnections of agricultural research and development (R&D) with dominant economic and political interests; and secondly, through investigating the historical organisation of modern sciences in disciplinary silos.

The project seeks to assist in the transformation of agri-food knowledge systems by clarifying how agri-food knowledges circulate, shape, and are shaped by, their broader cultural, economic, socio-technical and socio-ecological contexts. Such a transformation could contribute to healthier, more solidary and ecologically-sustainable food systems, and to a more equal distribution of power in societies.

Methodology

Using a theoretically and empirically explorative, action-oriented methodology, the project is:

  • Developing a ‘political agroecology’ analytical framework that combines political ecology, Science, Technology and Society (STS) studies and agroecology
  • Studying science-in-society questions around the development of genetically engineered crops in Belgium.
  • Working on participatory action research approaches in transforming Brussels’ food systems.

Impact and Outreach

Through developing an inter- and transdisciplinary analytical framework, the project aims to open up and broaden discussions on the production, circulation, adaption and use of agri-food knowledge and explore possibilities for transformative innovation.

By focusing on genetically modified organisms (GMO) controversies as well as on participatory action research for solidary and ecologically sustainable food systems, the project is looking to clarify the relations between the enclosure (privatisation, disciplinary compartmentalisation, patents) and commoning (counter processes) of agri-food research and food systems in Belgium.

In cooperation with researchers, farmers and social movement actors, the project is developing strategies and actions for transformative innovation not only in Belgian agri-food knowledge systems, but also more broadly across Europe.

Image - A fenced off research experiment with genetically modified potatoes in Flanders (May 2011). Courtesy of Guillaume de Crop