Governing agri-food transitions: radical paths? (Dialogue Session, 06.10.2021 09:00 – 10:30)

Challenging incumbency by integrating radical pathways: Governing challenges, interests and sociomaterialities in Agrifood transformations
Organizers: Kostas Vattes and Stathis Arapostathis, National and Kapodistrian University of Athens

Incumbent agrifood sociotechnical systems that have dominated the last sixty years based on intensive monoculture methods face extreme challenges during the last decades. Lack of
biodiversity and varieties in ecosystems, desertification, land degradation and marginalization of peasants mainly in the Global South are some of the system’s critical challenges. Intergovernmental agendas as the SDG try to respond to these challenges setting targets and facilitating to steer the system to more socially and environmentally sustainable pathways. At the same time, incumbent regime resist to radical pathways opposing their interests, diffusing also power to more actors.

To integrate alternative, more radical views, researchers in the interdisciplinary field of transition studies have gone about the concept of sociotechnical system by adopting STS approaches and integrating alternative pathways in their analysis (Stirling, 2018; Chilvers et al, 2018). Stirling (2018) uses the concept of sociomaterial incumbency describing the many divergent “faces” of power reinforcing particular trends for transformation while stopping others. Focusing on the asymmetries of power and on the particular directions of change which these magnitudes of intensities”have oriented, this approach takes into account potential pathways that are not the dominant ones. In their work, Chilvers et al (2018) talk about ‘ecologies of participation’, arguing for the relational, multidimensional as well as systemic contexts stressing existing and emerging power relations. They have analyzed the way particular collectives become dominant while others become endangered and marginal within wider sociomaterial ecologies. These perspectives could be extremely influential mainly in the agrifood regime where technological and societal nicheinnovations coexist with the incumbent regime for long periods as parts of the incumbency. The discussion session addresses the topic of the conference and aims in reflecting on processes of marginalization as well as the emerging opportunities for the integration of alternative sociomaterial pathways and system transformations.

Based on these analytical approaches this dialogue session would like to stress ways mainstreaming alterative sociomaterialities rising at the same time critical questions of the results of such integration. Research questions and issues that this panel would like to address could be:

  • Do SDGs, as promoted by incumbent actors, create exclusions and marginalization of alternative pathways?
  • How could we, and should we, be mainstreaming alternative sociomaterialities in the agrifood system?
  • How would mainstreaming alternative views and logics affect the relation of values versus interests in the making of the transitions
  • How materialities function as actants in the making of the transitions and how they participate in the configuration of alternative social orders?
  • How can we move from technosciencific knowledge regimes of domination to knowledge regimes of cocreation in the making of the transitions?

The session is comprised of 4 contributions, of not conventional type of conference paper, since there will be short statements/papers of 15 minutes by each of the participants in the panel and 30 minutes discussion with the attendees. The panel will be advertised to the newly established research network on agrifood transitions that has been established within the Sustainability Transitions Research Network (STRN). The session organizers are members of the agrifood transitions network and will take action to promote the session in that network. The topic and the contributions of the session resonate well with research questions and issues relevant to the governance of sustainable transitions, thus the potential audience will include attendees with an interest in governance studies. Furthermore, the discussion session fits nicely with the new material turn in the transition studies and will attract conference attendees with an interest in the sociomaterial context of transition pathways. For all the above reasons the discussion session aspires to attract an audience from three different research groups within the ecology of transition studies and the Sustainability Transitions Research Network.

– Chilvers J., Pallett H. and Hargreaves T., (2018), “Ecologies of participation in sociotechnical change: The case of energy system transitions”, Energy Research & Social Science, Vol. 42, pp. 199210.

– Stirling, Andy. ‘How Deep Is Incumbency? A “Configuring Fields” Approach to Redistributing and Reorienting Power in SocioMaterial Change’. Energy Research & Social Science 58 (1 December 2019): 101239.


Confirmed speakers and titles of contributions (alphabetical order):

Stathis Arapostathis and Konstantinos Vattes, National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, Greece, “Material entanglements, entanglers and the role of the incumbents in unheeding alternative pathways in the agrifood systems
Adrian Ely, University of Sussex, UK,
“Experimenting with the sociomaterialities of seeds in the search for hybrid pathways to sustainability”
Agni Kalfagianni
, University of Utrecht, The Netherlands, “Philanthropy in agrifood governance: how foundations fuel transformations and with what consequences for sustainable food systems
Katerina Psarikidou, University of Sussex, UK, “From ‘knowledge exchange’ to ‘research coproduction’: negotiating ‘participation’ in agrifood research, and implications for food systems transformations”