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Can food sovereignty be up-scaled? The scope, limits and politics of community initiatives in the context of global food security

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  • Full or part time
    Dr G Bettini
    Dr R Whittle
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

Project Description

The sustainability of food systems is one of the most pressing global challenges at the intersection of environmental and developmental policy, and has attracted a vast amount of research [1,2]. Currently, such research falls into two broad camps. On the one hand, there is a large body of work concerned with developing food security at the global scale. This research tends to place a strong emphasis on science and technology “solutions” and the search for top-down interventions in biophysical, agricultural and economic systems. However, recent years have seen the emergence a contrasting body of literature concerned with the development of ‘food sovereignty’. This work, which has strong roots in critical social science, places the emphasis on giving control of food systems back to farmers and communities. Consequently, proposed interventions tend to be low tech, diverse and bottom-up in character [3,4]. However, while proponents of such approaches tend to emphasise their value in transforming power imbalances within the food system, critics dismiss them because they are often seen to be purely local in scale and thus of limited value for addressing global food insecurity.
The two approaches often talk past each other, and few studies seriously engage with both. With this project you will fill this crucial knowledge gap, combining exciting empirical work with community groups at the cutting edge of action on food sovereignty with in-depth theoretical engagement. The key objective is to assess the potential of community food projects to foster food sovereignty. In particular, you will explore the scope and limitations of their engagement with transnational initiatives, economic processes, policies. To this end, the perspective of polycentric governance [5,6,7,8] will help in understanding processes and entities that cannot be placed in any of the boxes (international, national, regional or local) envisioned by traditional understandings of scale. The aim is thus to generate a better understanding of the scope and limitations of novel forms of action and governance within food systems (with unconventional combinations of private and governmental actors, networks, community groups, etc.) which transnational initiatives bring to life, and of which community engagement is an important ingredient.
Specifically, this innovative project will:
(1) Explore emerging community initiatives on food security and sovereignty in the UK (or possibly in another European country), assessing their scope, limitations, and the ways in which the politics of local/community initiatives do (or do not) create openings for societal change.
(2) Explore how emerging community initiatives engage in transnational action on food systems, advancing and assessing the scope of the polycentric governance approach to understand these emerging forms of intervention and engagement.
(3) Consider how structural constraints linked to food systems emerge in and influence the discourse, activities and agendas of community initiatives to fostering food sovereignty and resilience.

Further Information:

Academic Requirements: First-class or 2.1 (Hons) degree, or Masters degree (or equivalent) in an appropriate subject.

Deadline for applications: 14 February 2016

Provisional Interview Date: [tbc] Week Beginning 29 February 2016

Start Date: October 2016

Application process: Please upload a completed application form (download from outlining your background and suitability for this project and a CV at LEC Postgraduate Research Applications,

You also require two references, please send the reference form (download from to your two referees and ask them to email it to Andy Harrod ([Email Address Removed]), Postgraduate Research (PGR) Co-ordinator, Lancaster Environment Centre by the deadline.

Due to the limited time between the closing date and the interview date, it is essential that you ensure references are submitted by the closing date or as soon as possible.

Funding Notes

Full studentships (UK/EU tuition fees and stipend (£14,057 2015/16 [tax free])) for UK/EU students for 3.5 years or full studentships (International tuition fees and stipend (£14,057 2015/16 [tax free])) for International students for 3 years.


[1] Sustainable Development Goals
[2] Foresight Report (2011) The Future of Food and Farming
[3] Akram-Lodhi (2013) Hungry for Change: Farmers, Food Justice and the Agrarian Question. Fernwood Publishing Portobello Books, London.
[4] Patel, R. (2012) Stuffed and Starved: From Farm to Fork, the Hidden Battle for the World Food System
[5] Ostrom, E. (2010). Beyond markets and states: polycentric governance of complex economic systems. The American economic review, 641-672.
[6] Jordan, A. J., et al (2015). Emergence of polycentric climate governance and its future prospects. Nature Clim. Change, 5(11), 977-982. doi: 10.1038/nclimate2725
[7] Ostrom, E. Polycentric systems for coping with collective action and global environmental change. Glob. Environ. Change 20, 550–557 (2010).
[8] Ericksen, P. J., Ingram, J. S., & Liverman, D. M. (2009). Food security and global environmental change: emerging challenges. Environmental Science & Policy, 12(4), 373-377.

How good is research at Lancaster University in Earth Systems and Environmental Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 44.90

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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