The Right to Certify? Mobilising for the Self-Certification of Food

Lead Research Organisation: Queen's University of Belfast
Department Name: Inst Study Conflict Transf & Soc Justice

Abstract

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 researchfindings. 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.

Planned Impact

Our project will aim to have an impact on (1) independent small-scale farmers and food producers members of the network 'Genuinely Clandestine' (GC) in Italy, (2) high profile agricultural policy-makers who currently elaborate vanguard initiatives to recognise self-certifications as a means to lift bureaucratic burdens for farmers, including legislative change, (3) food activist networks across Italy and the UK, and (4) policy makers of the Food Standard Authority (FSA) in order to learn from 'good practices'.

1. Most immediately, the project will raise the visibility of independent small-scale famers and food producers in Italy who are part of the GC network. The long-term fieldwork will give producers and farmers the opportunity to carefully voice their concerns. Research subjects will be involved in the production of a documentary, a monograph and a research article, as described in the pathways attachment. The outcomes of the project offer opportunities to inspire and motivate activism and foster new collaborations between farmers, consumers and policy-makers alike.
2. The project outcomes aim to influence policy makers involved in a landmark initiative that aims to recognise simplified 'participatory self-certifications'. These will facilitate the possibilities for independent small-scale farmers to sell their products, simplifying current EU regulative burdens. The project team will collaborate closely with key-figures of the Italian Confederation of Farmers (CIA), one of the largest EU agricultural associations (see LoS) and their coalition of policy-makers that includes Members of the Italian Parliament and agricultural associations interlinked with the GC network. As a timely and unique policy experiment, it might well become a future model for other EU countries. Currently the initiative does not rely on detailed scientific insights into the potential and limits of self-certifications, but exclusively on activists voices. As outlined in the Pathways document, the research team will deliver its findings on the potential and limits of self-certification in a dedicated policy paper. Thus, the research offers the opportunity to shape next generation food regulations.
3. Through the proposed debate and screening sessions, participating UK activists in London and Belfast will learn about practices of self-certification and the GC network. Both are almost unknown throughout Great Britain's food activist networks, such as Slow Food UK. Participants will learn about good practices, be inspired and motivated in order to think of possible innovative forms of mobilisation. In addition, consumers who participate in the proposed events will engage with the dynamics of self-certification of local products, direct consumer-producer relations and assemblies for food sovereignty.
4. In collaboration with Christopher Elliot (Inst for Global Food Security), the finding of the project will fed into the FSA/ESRC funded project 'Analyses of Food Supply Chains for Risks and Resilience to Food Crime' (of which I am part) in order to access UK stakeholders at the FSA. In particular, we will promote insights that help to implement innovative 'good practices' able to enhance consumer trust in new ways and improve consumer-producer relations around the model of grassroot certifications.

Throughout the project, we will work hard to demonstrate the value that critical theorist Rosa (2012) has described as 'resonating' relationships based on trust and face-to-face contacts. In sum, the project offers much needed insights about the potential and limits of 'participatory self-certifications'. These insights will benefit policy-makers who currently work on a model legislative initiative that draws on these procedures, will raise the profile of network 'Genuinely Clandestine' and sensitise consumers, activists and policy makers alike regarding to the timely question of how we can trust in the food we eat.
 
Title An Experimental Path - (documentary 48') Fabrizio Loce-Mandes 
Description A network of independent small-scale farmers and food producers of Central Italy experiments with the "participatory guarantee", a set of collective and participatory practices that aims to develop an alternative food quality and safety certification. The documentary shows everyday practices and urban-rural relations that constitute the basis of this alternative certification. As an often overseen form of "peasant resistance", the experiment aims to offer innovative solutions to challenges of food processing at small scales, organic quality standards and the need to prevent black and precarious work conditions. At the core of the film stands a collective visit for the "participatory guarantee", in which the main activists of the network have participated. An Experimental Path narrates this certification while a maker of essential oils, cattle breeders, beekeepers and a baker discuss and demonstrate how through this ever changing practice it becomes possible to build innovative networks between peasants and co-producers, and to generate alternative economical circuits and food certifications. Inscribed in the rhythms of the countryside and the relational efforts of the protagonists, the documentary highlights the difficulty of keeping alive and autonomous an economic and political circuit through local markets, direct food distribution and participation in national peasant movements. Challenging the system of standardized regulations in agriculture and food processing - which favours large agribusiness - the experimental path of the "participatory guarantee" is a work in progress, highlighting to other farmers, food processors and "co-producers" of the network the possibilities of a different scale of values related to the organic-ness of food and to the mainstream work ethic in the countryside. The objective of the "participatory guarantee" is to build personal relationships of trust through shared visits and the establishment of autonomous food supply chain. 
Type Of Art Film/Video/Animation 
Year Produced 2016 
Impact The documentary wants to open a reflection on personal experiences of small-scale farmers and as they interact with a broader context. In particular, with the anthropological observation of the actions of protagonists is possible to show the institutional limits and social possibilities of collective practice not recognized by the State. The documentary raises important questions not only with regard to the management of food safety and how we produce and source food, but also with regard to the politics of transparency and trust. 
URL https://vimeo.com/183668750
 
Title De-Commodifying footways (documentary 83) - Loce-Mandes Fabrizio, Koensler Alexander 
Description 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. 
Type Of Art Film/Video/Animation 
Year Produced 2018 
Impact The documentary wants to open a reflection on personal experiences of small-scale farmers and as they interact with a broader context. In particular, with the anthropological observation of the actions of protagonists is possible to show the institutional limits and social possibilities of collective practice not recognized by the State. The documentary raises important questions not only with regard to the management of food safety and how we produce and source food, but also with regard to the politics of transparency and trust. 
URL http://www.peasantproject.org/gallery/documentaries/
 
Description In an increasing number of realms in everyday life, informal personal relations of trust are being replaced by a constraining formalization of standardization and/or certification implemented in the name of transparency. Examining the repercussions of this process for small-scale farmers in Italy, this research project has offered an understanding of ordinary experiences with transparency and explores attempts to resist it. Based on ethnographic research with a neo-rural activist network that opposes official food-certifications, the project has documented procudures of alternative certification processes, such as the "participatory guarantees" (PG's). Restoring the primacy of trust and solidarity, these cases illustrate how a different type of transparency can contribute to realizing a humanistic potential that is nevertheless not free of contradictions.
In particular, the project team has been able to contextualize inventive practices of a neo-peasant network in Italy that has developed a sophisticated alternative regulatory apparatus aimed to achieve self-determination of food chains. The case illustrates a shifting political terrain that moves towards concrete, post-anarchist utopias and, at the same time, contradicts the peasant populism of a 'unity of all people of the land'.
Key-finding of the documented cases offers insights into a changing political imagination, illustrating emerging post-anarchist contingent, evolving 'concrete' utopias based on imaginative practices rather than abstract ideological frameworks. These can be summarized in three points: First, the experimental approach of activists has ended up of developing, step by step, a new system of micro-economic exchange based on principles of solidarity and cooperation rather than competition and market-driven elements (solidarity and material help in cases of difficulty, constant knowledge exchange). Second, the PG has also contributed to overcoming the dichotomic conception of 'consumers' against 'producers', a basic principal of the market economy. Its practices of actively involving consumers in democratic decision-making processes rather than consumer 'choices' as in market economies, has resulted in consumers being renamed as 'co-producers', designing the conceptual contours of a non-capitalist economic logic. Third, the process of PG has also re-established personal bonds between those who produce and those who consume the products, blurring the boundaries between them. In this sense, the GP has enabled concrete moments of solidarity without overcoming the individualistic freedom of each producer. In order to reflect this tension, the network proposed the neologism 'connective' in contrast to 'collective' based on classical concepts of shared ownership. In sum, hybrid spaces of economic and socio-political innovation break, but also reproduce central contradictions of the current socio-economic order. As a difficult balance, the experiences and practices of re-inventing micro-political practices contributes to the emergence of a 'concrete utopia' with much deeper consequences for the political imagination than much of these micro-political changes may allow us to see at first.
The significance of these key-findings is also confirmed by the growing interest of international organizations such as the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) and IFOAM - Organics International who seek to enhance innovation along the value chain in sustainable agriculture and food production.
Exploitation Route In further publications and engagement activities with international organizations (for example FAO). We are currently exploring the possibilities to develop interactive learning tools of alternative certifications. This innovative learning tool would primarily serve development practitioners in Training of Trainer (ToT) sessions associated with a number of existing projects conducted jointly by the FAO and IFOAM - Organics International in developing countries.
Sectors Government, Democracy and Justice,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections,Other

URL http://www.peasantproject.org
 
Description In sum, this findings of the project have received significant attention by non accademic users, in particularneo-rural activists and officials of international organizations who are interested in alternative certifications. Thus, neo-peasant activism does not necessarily remain 'largely gestural', as Henry Bernstein (2016, 643) asserts. Clearly, the development of alternative certification systems is not exclusively an identity-based or aesthetised struggle, but one that overcomes capitalist market principles in an arduous, contingent and experimental path towards micro-economic autonomy. Yet, these imaginative practices often remain invisible or under-estimated as they do not start with a clear utopian conceptual framework. This shifting political terrain of neo-peasant activism offers one possible way out of the reciprocal myopia of (post-)Marxist theorists and grassroot proponents of peasant activism. On the one side, the significance of some forms of neo-peasant activism tend to be overseen by Marxist theorists as they come into being through imaginative practices rather than attempting to implement a pre-existing ideological framework. In other words, Marxist theorists tend to underestimate the political significance of the post-anarchist shift evident in contingent, imaginative practices of 'concrete utopias'. On the other, the case highlights that a 'unity of all people of the land' remains a peasant populism that needs to be scrutinized. Within its limitations, the case study of this article indicates one possible and often overseen direction of 'emancipatory rural politics' (Scoones et. al. 2018) embedded in a post-anarchist shift of political imagination and highlights how rural areas continue to function as sites of struggle over question of socio-economic justice and for the elaboration of innovative political practices.
First Year Of Impact 2016
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Communities and Social Services/Policy,Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

 
Title Audio/video recording and Photography collection on Peasant Activism 
Description The database gathers over eighty hours of audio video recording and over a thousand photographs focused on the research work of the team on Peasant activism and social movements for food self-determination and the right to food certification. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2017 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact The materials collected can be developed in further documentaries and videos, used for seminars on the subject and the research methodology, and also to develop an online learning platform. 
 
Description Conference sponsering (hospitality), University of Perugia 
Organisation University of Perugia
Country Italy 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Organisation and coordination of a major international conference: POLITICAL IMAGINATION LABORATORY: Visualizing and Contextualizing Ethnographies of Social Movements, organised in cooperation with the network "Anthropology and Social Movements" of the European Association of Social Movements (EASA) and "Contro-Sguardi".
Collaborator Contribution The hospitality and student support unit (ADISU - Agenzia per il diritto allo studio Universitario per l'Umbria) of University of Perugia has provided financial and logistic support for the organization of hospitality of guest speakers for an international conference realized in cooperation with the network "Anthropology and Social Movements" of the European Association of Social Movements (EASA) and "Contro-Sguardi". The conference was entitles POLITICAL IMAGINATION LABORATORY: Visualizing and Contextualizing Ethnographies of Social Movements.
Impact The conference was entitles POLITICAL IMAGINATION LABORATORY: Visualizing and Contextualizing Ethnographies of Social Movements. At the conference participated about 30 researchers, professors and policy makers from throughout Europe and South America, strengthening international networking and future collaborations.
Start Year 2016
 
Description Proving access to "Visual Laboratory" and office space 
Organisation University of Perugia
Country Italy 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Organizing of a conference
Collaborator Contribution University of Perugia provides free-of-charge office space for the Postdoc Fellow associated with the project, as well as free-of-charge access to the "Visual Labpratory", including high-value technical equipment (cameras, microphone etc)
Impact Provision of necessary infrastructure to carry out the research
Start Year 2016
 
Description Second edition of "Political Imagination Laboratory": Visualizing and Contextualizing Ethnographies of Social Movements 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact In the workshop/laboratory, anthropologists, filmmakers and activists presented papers or visual projects (completed documentaries or works in progress), which engage with ethnography and/or fieldwork related to different forms of social movement researches that address the imagination of contemporary activism around the world. Documentaries were projected in a public cinema to involve a wider audience with the intent to open a dialogue between researchers, activists, filmmakers and a general public. There was a vivid interest for the new forms of activism narrated by the discussant which led to a debate about activism and engaging activities within the communities involved.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://www.peasantproject.org/programme-2nd-political-imagination-laboratory/
 
Description Discussion and screening session 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Discussion and screening session of our documentary "An Experimental Path" at a new local farmer market in Siena, Italy. The screening was followed by a debate with the protagonists of the documentary and several policy makers of food safety and organic food production.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Discussion and screening session, International Meeting of "Genuino Clandestino" in Terni (Italy) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact First screening session and discussion of our documentary "An Experimental Path" at a International Meeting of "Genuino Clandestino" in Terni (Italy), a network of small scale farmer. The screening was followed by a debate with the protagonists of the documentary and several policy makers of food safety and organic food production.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://genuinoclandestino.it/evento/genuino-clandestino-2325-settembre-terni/
 
Description Documentary Screening and Debate Event - Zazie nel Metro, Pigneto, Rome (Italy) - 19th January 2017 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Screening and debate of our first documentary "An Experimental Path" at Zazie nel Metrò, a new neighborhood cooperative in Rome. Activists of Comune del Crocicchio, different cooperatives, and Terra/Terra discuss food sovereignty and participatory guarantee. Discussants: Actors of the documentary, peasants of Terra/Terra, activists of Comune del Crocicchio, members of Comitato Piazza Nuccitelli Persiani.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://www.peasantproject.org/event-documentary-screening-and-debate-in-rome/
 
Description Film Screening and Debate at international film festival 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact Kratovo Film Festival (Macedonia)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Film screening 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact 12/10/2017 Offline Film Festival (Ireland)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Il lato opaco della trasparenza: Un'esplorazione antropologica ai margini degli standard alimentari 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Invited paper presentation at the Institute for Biosciences, "National Research Council", Perugia, Italy
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Kratovo Film Festival (Macedonia) 6 - 10 October 2017 - Documentary Screening and Debate Event 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Screening and debate session of the documentary "An Experimental Path" at the Kratovo Film Festival 2017 in Macedonia, an exciting opportunity to engange in discussions on peasant activism in Europe.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://www.makedonskoetnoloskodrustvo.org/en.html
 
Description National Press Coverage - Neo-rural Activism in the weekend magazine "D" of "La Repubblica" 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The weekend magazin "D" of Italy's major center-left newspaper "La Repubblica" has pubblished an investigative article by Francesca Sironi on emergent neo-rural activism, featuring an interview and statements from members of the project team.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://www.peasantproject.org/national-press-coverage-neo-rural-activism-in-the-weekend-magazin-d-of...
 
Description Offline Film Festival (Ireland) 11 - 15 October 2017 - Documentary Screening 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Screening and debate session of the documentary "An Experimental Path" at the Offline Film Festival (Ireland), an exciting opportunity to engange in discussions on peasant activism in Europe.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://www.peasantproject.org/documentary-screening-offline-film-festival-ireland/
 
Description Political Imagination Laboratory 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact In the workshop, anthropologists, filmmakers and activists presented papers or visual projects (completed documentaries or works in progress), which engage with ethnography and/or fieldwork related to different forms of social movement researches that address the imagination of contemporary activism around the world. Documentaries were projected in a public cinema to involve a wider audience with the intent to open a dialogue between researchers, activists, filmmakers and a general public. There was a vivid interest for the new forms of activism narrated by the discussant which led to a debate about activism and engaging activities within the communities involved.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.peasantproject.org/political-imagination-laboratory-university-of-perugia-14th-16th-octob...
 
Description Presentation of Peasant Activism Project and screening of the first documentary, Queen's University Belfast (UK) - Post Graduate School 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Presentation of the project and screening and debate of the documentary with the author Fabrizio Loce-Mandes (School of History, Anthropology, Philosophy and Politics) and the coordinator of the project Alexander Koensler (Senator George J. Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice). The presentation was at the Graduate School of Queen's University with discussions: Cahal McLaughlin (Chair of Film Studies, School of Arts, English and Languages) and Katrina Campbell (Institute for Global Food Security).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.peasantproject.org/event-documentary-screening-and-debate/
 
Description Presentation of Peasant Activism Project, opening of Political Imagination Laboratory and screening debate of the first documentary, Cinema MeliĆ©s Perugia (Italy) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact Presentation of the project and screening and debate of the documentary with the author Fabrizio Loce-Mandes (School of History, Anthropology, Philosophy and Politics) and the coordinator of the project Alexander Koensler (Senator George J. Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice). The presentation was at the Cinema Meliés during an International Conference "Political Imagination Laboratory" in Perugia, Italy.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.peasantproject.org/political-imagination-laboratory-university-of-perugia-14th-16th-octob...