UNMAKING: a research programme on the disruption of capitalism in societal transformation to sustainability

About the project

Leonie Guerrero Lara is awarded a PhD

On 31 January 2024 Leonie Guerrero Lara successfully defended her PhD titled ‘Nurturing Networks: A Social Movement Lens on Community-Supported Agriculture‘.

The political dimension of community-supported agriculture (CSA), beyond prefiguring alternatives to the conventional, capitalist agri-food system, has remained largely unexplored by the scientific community. The large majority of studies on CSA have explored questions on societal change by investigating the internal dynamics at the initiative level, and detailed explorations of CSA as a social movement as a whole are largely lacking. Therefore, this thesis studied the political dimension of CSA at the level of the network organisation by conceptualising and analysing CSA from a social movement lens. Such a perspective broadened the view beyond local initiatives and shed light on the role that CSA can play as a collective political actor to bring about change towards more environmentally sound and socially just agri-food systems. This study focussed on the German CSA network, the Netzwerk Solidarische Landwirtschaft, as the main case study and asked to what extent and in what ways CSA networks form and act as a collective, political actor of societal transformation. To answer this question, several chapters of this thesis drew on different strands of social movement studies: Chapter 3 used the concept of boundary work to shed light on the process through which CSA networks become a collective actor. Subsequently, drawing on literature on political advocacy, Chapter 4 analysed how CSA networks act via advocacy work to induce change within capitalist agri-food systems. Building on the literature on coalition building, Chapter 5 then investigated how political action can be broadened by systematically analysing the potential of entering a coalition between the CSA and degrowth movements. Finally, Chapter 6 examined the transformation of agri-food systems more broadly through the lens of degrowth literature and identified pertinent avenues for future research. Taken together, these chapters generate novel insights and positions on the German CSA network as a collective, yet heterogenous actor. Adopting a social movement lens was instrumental for exploring how CSA initiatives with differing values, ways of organising, and political goals are positioned towards each other, including how tensions and factionalism arise within the movement and how they are mitigated. Furthermore, this thesis showed that the German CSA network, apart from an outspoken distancing from the far-right, welcomes diversity; a pragmatic decision that has allowed the movement to grow and spread within different circles. The heterogeneity of the German CSA network is also reflected in its politics; while the network engages predominantly in a prefigurative politics, different understandings of what it means to be political co-exist within the movement. In addition, it is politicised to different extents and the extent to which the movement wants to be political remains internally contested and debated. While further politicisation is necessary to support societal transformation processes, for a social movement that consists of heterogenous initiatives, this process is complex and problem-ridden. In sum, this thesis gave a nuanced view of the ways in which CSA networks can be understood as political and offered important insights into how a common identity, political strategies, claims, and struggles are negotiated and enacted.