Ethnographic documentary: De-Commodifying food ways

Koensler, Alexander (2018). Ethnographic documentary: De-Commodifying food ways. [Data Collection]. Colchester, Essex: UK Data Service. 10.5255/UKDA-SN-853239

With growing concerns over the quality of what we eat, food has moved to the centre of questions over governance and sovereignty. However, in mainstream studies of food and activism, a focus on culture, identity and the creativity of ethical activism still often forecloses the capacity to address broader issues of governance. Following Bourdieu's (2014) call to consider resistance as a lens to understand the evolution of contemporary forms of power, this project investigates innovative political activism relating to the right to certify food. The rapidly growing network of independent small-scale farmers 'Genuinely Clandestine' (GC) throughout Italy promotes alternative, 'participatory self-certifications' of so-called 'genuine' local food chains. Created in 2010 as an ironic 'anti-logo', the label GC has expanded to a national network throughout Italy. With the GC label, groups organise markets, festivals and events selling deliberately local products that do not conform to current food safety regulations. In contrast to depersonalised, top-down certification practices considered as driven by agribusiness interests, 'participatory self-certifications' are set up locally in consumer-producer assemblies. As a particularly rich laboratory of food politics, for decades Italy's cultural capital has been considered an incubator for similar vanguard food movements that have spread around the world, including Slow Food, local food chains and resistance to EU regulations. However, the proliferation of alterative certifications differs radically in scope and objectives from previous forms of rural resistance; it challenges the right of state authorities to certify, addressing a key issue of contemporary governance. This form of activism is likely to spread internationally over the next years. Based on observational methods and participatory cinema, this project unfolds around an in-depth ethnographic fieldwork related to the micropolitics of participatory self-certification. We will consider these within their broader web of relations with consumers, authorities and producers. In practice, who takes decisions? Who contests them? What new challenges pose self-certification to the authorities? The fieldwork will allow us to address broader questions of what these novel forms of activism tell us about changing forms of sovereignty, how is 'trust' in products produced; and, how social relations between consumers, farmers and producers are reconfigured. The innovative potential of the project derives from the approach to situate the political challenge posed by the proliferation of self-certifications within a theoretical framework that combines writing on food activism with critical studies of policy. By re-framing the understanding of food activism in relation to wider issues of governance and sovereignty, rather than in terms of identity and culture, we will question the implicit assumption in the literature on food and activism of a growing unidirectional normalisation of everyday life and its evolution towards multiple, contested forms of standardisations. In addition, this theme will highlight the role of rural peripheries as laboratories for political innovation, often considered in mainstream literature as static and back-warded. Embedded in activities of the European network Anthropology and Social Movements (founded and coordinated by the PI) and building upon relations developed in a ESRC interdisciplinary study, the results of this research will be delivered in form of one ethnographic monograph to a prestigious university press and in form of a major interdisciplinary research article. In addition, we will produce a documentary in order to disseminate the research findings. In addition, we will work with a coalition of policy makers that elaborates a vanguard legislative initiative for the Italian parliament, drawing on self-certifications as a means to lift bureaucratic burdens of small-scale farmers.

Data description (abstract)

How proceeds the daily life of those who have taken the step to realize their dream to life in the countryside? This documentary offers an ethnographic eye on the joys, perils and challenges of those who life from sustainable agriculture and food production. Diving deep into the everyday rhythm of a couple of goat keepers, a collective of cheesemakers, a Marxist-inspired beekeeper and an herbal expert, the documentary takes the viewer on a journey through the difficulties of producing and selling products, loneliness and nature, unknown circuits of alternative micro-economies, as well as the incisiveness of contemporary neo-peasant activism as a source of inspiration.

Creator NameEmailAffiliationORCID (as URL)
Koensler,'s University of BelfastUnspecified
NameEmailAffiliationORCID (as URL)
Loce Mandes, FabrizioUnspecifiedUnspecifiedUnspecified
Research funders: Economic and Social Research Council
Grant reference: ES/M011291/1
Topic classification: Politics
Labour and employment
Society and culture
Keywords: Ethnography, Agriculture, Italy, Peasant Activism
Project title: The Right to Certify? Mobilising for the Self-Certification of Food
Alternative title: Second documentary of the Peasant Activism Project, 86’, 2018, Italy
Grant holders: Alexander Koensler
Project dates:
15 January 201614 March 2018
Date published: 05 Jul 2018 13:21
Last modified: 05 Jul 2018 13:21

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