The Politics of Co-optation in the Struggle for Just Sustainability: Stuffing Agroecology into the Innovation Box

See below for more detailed description of this seminar/workshop at  Laboratoire Agriculture Urbaine
List of freely available pieces of related writing that I will draw from are at the bottom of this page.

Contact for follow up: colin.anderson@coventry.ac.uk 

PDF of powerpoint from this session for download here

It is increasingly recognized today’s global, industrial and corporate-led food and agriculture system is a social and environmental failure. Biodiversity loss and nitrogen pollution are exceeding planetary limits, and catastrophic risks of climate change demand immediate action.The social costs of the food system are also dire for many – evident for example in brutal conditions for food workers and suicides amongst desperate farmers reeling from growing conditions of poverty and hardship. 

Business as usual is no longer an option and we need to drastically rethink how we nourish ourselves and each other as a society. However the proposed solutions differ drastically and while there are calls for transformation, these arise in the context of powerful political, economic and cultural lock-ins that prevent radical change. 

Powerful actors and systems are continually adapting, mobilising and channelling dissent in ways that maintain the status quo. The staying power of industrial corporate-led agriculture, and other powerful systems, stems both not only from direct economic and political power, but also in the battle over ideas. As proposals for radical alternative arise, powerful actors and systems are re-framing transformative ideas back into conventional ways of thinking in order to maintain the status quo. 

This talk will draw from examples and stories in different contexts to flesh out the politics of co-optation in relation to different grassroots food movements and their relationship with mainstream institutions. The primary example I will focus on will be the current dynamics in the global debates on, and movements for, agroecology. 

Agroecology has been proposed by social movements as a transformative-paradigmatic shift away from profit- and growth- led agricultural development towards people- and planet- centred food systems.  Yet, as it gains ground and attracts the interest of mainstream institutions, it is now being recast as one of many possible “innovations”, alongside high-tech solutions like gene-editing, automation and big data. This often serves to strip the politics of agroecology away, reducing agroecology to a technical practice rather than a radical process of social-political transformation. 

Similar dynamics are found across food movements (e.g. charity approaches undermining the advance of radical politics in urban food justice movements) and generally reflects a de-politicization and rounding off of the transformative potential of agroecology and other struggles for food system change. 


Thankfully, social movements are advancing a transformative approach to food system change, for example by resisting the cooptation of agroecology, by articulating radical approaches to food justice and food sovereignty and by building real alternatives in communities and territories. I will also share stories from social movements in different parts of the world to highlight some of these important efforts to claim and reclaim the debates on the future of food and agriculture. 


This work will draw from a variety of writing from our group, a selection of which are below, and the full list can be found at www.agroecologynow.com/publications 


Underpinning Research

Some of the ideas in this talk are also reflected in these recently published resources, available for download (if you want to learn more)