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Notes on the "Social Construction" Paradigm in the Local Food Literature

Sun, August 13, 10:30am to 12:10pm, Palais des congrès de Montréal, Floor: Level 5, 512G

Abstract

It is now taken for granted in the local food literature that the “local” is socially constructed, and that it is in part constituted by “extra-local” ties. However, these arguments have had only marginal effects on the way that “local” is conceptualized – as evidenced by the numerous and widely read “rethinkings” that have been published in the last decades. In this paper, I argue that the social construction arguments as they have been deployed thus far suffer from serious theoretical and methodological shortcomings. Theoretically, they typically conceptualize the constructed “local” as a sort of structure, but I argue that this reliance on structuralism obscures as much as it reveals about the limitations of localism. Specifically, I show how this conceptualization permits an unwarranted optimism about the capacity for “reflexive” agents to reform local food. Methodologically, local food literature tends to describe the construction of “local” as being primarily conducted by influential stakeholders within geographically bounded networks, but this “methodological localism” offers an inadequate description of the “extra-local” ties that constitute the local. The paper concludes by illustrating how more serious attention to the “extra-local” leads to a fundamental destabilization of the “local” category itself. The examples are drawn from literature on migrant farmworkers in local food networks and from original ethnographic research on “nonhumans” in local food markets.

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