Maria Contesse: What human and non-human change agents do

It is not new that environmental and social pressures present the necessity to shift current dominant food-systems towards more sustainable ones. Within transition studies, such shift has been conceptualized as sustainable socio-technical transitions. The multi-level perspective (MLP) has becomes a prominent theory for studying sustainable transitions. However, the theory offers a limited understanding of agency; to what extent and how the actors that make change happen –change agents– advance transitions.

Organised by Knowledge Technology and Innovation

Tue 26 June 2018 12:30 to 13:30

Room C68

Methodological challenges for integrative research

While there is research about agency in transitions, some issues remain under-researched. Some of these are: i) the diversity of change agents; ii) how diverse change agents collectively advance transitions; iii) the role of non-human change agents in the transitioning towards sustainable food-systems.

My research aims to fill in this gap by answering ‘how has distributed agency among human and non-human change agents been unfolding in transition pathways to organic food-systems in Chile?’ Distributed agency refers to the complementary strategies and functions of diverse agents, across different spaces and time, each of whom takes actions that help system innovation. By taking as an example the development of organic agriculture food-systems in Chile, I will examine the interactions and relations among diverse change agents involved within the organic food-system niche.

The research follows an Actor-network theory (ANT) approach and is based on qualitative research methods (namely, interviews with key informants and observation) for making both a retrospective and transitions-in-the-making analysis. These research objectives contribute to an empirical understanding of distributed agency and its influence over food-system transitions, and provide knowledge that helps to better agency in the advancement towards more sustainable food-systems. Maria will introduce her research and hopes for a discussion on methodological questions.
Maria Contesse has a bachelor in natural resources management and agricultural sciences from the Universidad Católica de Chile, and an MSc in Environmental Sciences (Policy) from Wageningen University. Currently,  she is pursuing a PhD in food-systems socio-technological innovation and transitions at Rural Sociology and KTI groups. Jessica Duncan and Laurens Klerkx are her supervisors.