The University of Arizona

For food space: theorizing alternative food networks beyond alterity

Renata Blumberg, Helga Leitner, Kirsten Valentine Cadieux


In response to calls by scholars to deepen theoretical engagement in research on Alternative Food Networks (AFNs), in this article we critically discuss and assess major theoretical approaches deployed in the study of AFNs. After highlighting the strengths and limitations of each theoretical approach, we provide an alternative framework – which we refer to as the Geographical Political Ecology of Food Systems – that integrates the contributions that have emerged in the study of the alternative geographies of food with an understanding of capitalist processes in the food system. We do this by bringing together literature on the political ecology of food systems and multiple spatialities, including Doreen Massey's understanding of space as a heterogeneous multiplicity and Eric Sheppard's conceptualization of sociospatial positionality. We utilize research on agrarian change and AFNs in Eastern Europe to elaborate this approach. We argue that this new perspective helps navigate tensions in AFN scholarship, and provides new avenues for research and action. We focus particularly on the ability of AFNs to provide a sustainable livelihood for participating farmers, thus far a neglected topic in AFN research in Europe.

Keywords: Alternative Food Networks, Eastern Europe, spatialities, positionality, livelihoods

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