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Sites, Stakes and Scales: Theorizing the Urbanization of the Global Food Sovereignty Movement

Authors: Hannah Wittmsn, Academic Director, Centre for Sustainable Food Systems at UBC Farm & Professor, Faculty of Land and Food Systems and the Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability, The University of British Columbia, Evan Bowness*, The University of British Columbia, Annette A. Desmarais, Canada Research Chair in Human Rights, Social Justice and Food Sovereignty and Associate Professor, Department of Sociology and Department of Geography, University of Manitoba
Topics: Social Theory, Food Systems, Cultural and Political Ecology
Keywords: food sovereignty; the urban question; social movement theory
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The global food sovereignty movement started in the 1990s as a transnational challenge to the corporate food regime. While historically rural in its orientation, recently the movement has shifted to include more urban people and places. In this paper, we argue for a perspective that simultaneously considers both rural and urban dimensions of food sovereignty struggles. First, we review the food sovereignty movement’s transformative theory of change, highlighting processes identified as key to the scaling out of sustainable and just food systems. They include: Transitioning to agroecological growing methods; localizing provider-eater networks; building collective consciousness; claiming rights; institutionalizing food sovereignty principles; and redistributing political, economic and social power. We then propose an analytical framework that considers these processes as occurring within a constellation of social movement struggles across the urban-rural spectrum that are multi-sited, multi-stake and multi-scalar. This framing goes beyond locating the urban as a geographic “site” where food sovereignty struggles happen, to asking: What is at “stake” for both urban and rural people? And further, does asking this question expand or constrain the possibilities for rescaling social mobilization, networks and collective action frames to pursue change at other socio-spatial “scales”? We conclude by applying a sites, stakes and scales framework to highlight the opportunities and threats for the food sovereignty movement posed by the contemporary conjuncture of the climate crisis in the urban century, especially in light of the recent mass mobilizations of the global climate movement.

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