7. Preparing for the ecological crisis: material dependencies and the transformation of agri-food systems

Maura Benegiamo, Associate Researcher, University of Pisa, mbnegiamo@unipi.it

Laura Centemeri, Chargée de recherche CNRS, Centre d’Etude des Mouvements Sociaux (EHESS, Paris), laura.centemeri@ehess.fr

Short Bio
Maura Benegiamo is researcher associate at the Department of Political Science, University of Pisa. She has conducted research on environmental conflicts, extractivism, agrarian development and land grabbing combining ethnographic and political ecology approaches. Her current areas of interest and research projects include preparedness, digital agriculture and future-speculative technoscientific innovations. She’s interested in capitalist transformations in the context of ecological crises, biocapitalism and neoliberal governance, and de-colonial ecologies. She recently published the book “The Land within Capital. Conflict, Ecological Crisis and Development in the Senegal Delta” by Orthotes, Italy.

Laura Centemeri is Senior Researcher in Environmental Sociology at the French CNRS and a member of the Center for the Study of Social Movements (CEMS) of the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (EHESS, Paris). Her current areas of interest and research projects include : sociology of valuation and evaluation and environmental conflicts, agricultural preparedness and agroecological movements, sociology of repair and environmental disasters. She is the author of La permaculture ou l’art de réhabiter (Editions QUAE 2019) and the co-editor with Sezin Topçu and J. Peter Burgess of Rethinking Post Disaster Recovery: Socio-Anthropological perspectives on repairing environments (Routledge 2022).

This session is open to contributions that investigate ethnographically how material dependencies play a role in the transformations of contemporary agri-food systems in a context of ecological crisis. Material dependencies have been identified as “hidden underpinnings of sustainability transitions” (Van Assche et al. 2022) that social sciences do not always adequately take into account. 

The notion of “material dependencies” refers to the adoption of a relational perspective on the understanding of actions – both individual and collective – in which the environment is a source of constraints but also the condition of possibility of different types of agency. 

The perspective of material dependencies can be usefully articulated with political ecology, eco-feminists, decolonial, pragmatist, new materialist, STS, ontological politics and practice-based approaches. With respect to socio-technical processes, it brings into focus the frictions (Tsing 2005) generated by the encounter of the measures, instruments and tools that  govern material dependencies with the ways in which material dependencies are enacted by agents. Ethnography can help elucidating these frictions while shedding light on their  connections with socio-ecosystem dynamics and power relations. We contend that such an approach could offer an original vantage point for analysing current transformations of agriculture and agri-food systems, with a focus on  the simultaneous appearance of several partial, conflicting (and even competing or mutually exclusive ) processes of ‘transition’ (agroecological, digital). We are particularly interested in questioning these processes in light of the need for agri-food systems not only  to adapt to a different set of material conditions but also to prepare for increasingly frequent disaster and crisis situations (such as pandemics, extreme weather events, drought, proliferation of pathogens etc.).Ethnographic contributions  that pay attention to material dependencies can shed light on multiple ways to attain  food security and safety, as well as to adapt practices and to adopt techniques, so as to be prepared for the coming crises. They point, eventually, to different patterns of dealing with uncertainty in human-environment relations. 


Benegiamo, M. 2019. Pluralizzare il capitalocene, pensare la transizione. Investimenti agricoli in Africa e nuova questione agraria, Sociologia Urbana E Rurale, 120/2019, pp. 62-76, DOI:10.3280/SUR2019-120005

Bifulco, L., L. Centemeri, and C. Mozzana. 2021. “For Preparedness as Transformation.” Sociologica 15(3):5–24.

Pellizzoni, L. 2015. Ontological Politics in a Disposable World: The New Mastery of Nature, London, Routledge..

Pellizzoni, L ; & L. Centemeri (2022): Tackling material dependency in sustainability transition: rationales and insights from the agriculture sector, Journal of Environmental Policy & Planning, DOI: 10.1080/1523908X.2021.2022467

Thévenot, L. 1984. Rules and Implements: Investment in Forms Social Science Information 23(1):1–45.

Tsing, AL.. 2005. Friction An Ethnography of Global Connection. Princeton University Press.

Van Assche et al.. 2022. Material Dependencies: Hidden Underpinnings of Sustainability Transitions. Journal of Environmental Policy and Planning 24(3):281–96.

List of broad and relevant open questions

1- What are the implications in terms of ontological politics and political ecology of different ways of preparing for disaster situations in agriculture? 
2- Can a material dependencies perspective help to highlight different understandings of uncertainty in human-environment relations and of ways to deal with it socially and technically? 
3. How does a material dependencies perspective help shed light on the problem of scales in agriculture ecological transition?
4- What insights can be drawn from the analysis of agroecological practices and preparation of agri-food systems for crisis situations from a material dependencies perspective? 
5 – What insights can be drawn from the analysis of digital tools and preparation of agri-food systems for crisis situations from a material dependencies perspective?
6 – How does a material dependencies approach contribute to the understanding of the preparation of agri-food systems for crisis situations from an interspecies perspective? 
7 – How can a material dependencies approach be applied to the analysis of the use of insurance schemes in agriculture?   
8 –  How does a material dependencies approach contribute to the understanding of the transformation of agricultural work and techniques in the face of the ecological crisis? 
9 – How are different agricultural techniques and forms of knowledge practically combined to cope with the effects of climate change?  
10 – How does a material dependencies approach contribute to the understanding of conflicts and collaborations in the agrifood systems as related to different ways of understanding and experiencing materiality and defining risks? 

List of keywords
Agri-food systems transformations
Material dependencies
Ecological transition 
Ecological crisis

List of sub-disciplines or cross-disciplinary areas of concern.
Agroecological transition
Ecological crisis and climate change impacts on agriculture
Economic and Environmental sociology
Environmental and Political anthropology
Political Ecology 
Rural Sociology
Social Theory

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