Sociology of agriculture, food and environmental crisis course completed

  • Environmental Policy & Rural Development Studies

  • As part of the series of the international collaborative courses offered by the Graduate School of Economics and sponsored by the Asian Platform for Global Sustainability and Transcultural Studies, the Sociology of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Crisis course wrapped up on Saturday 11, 2017. This intensive course was taught by Professor Hugh Campbell, Chair in Sociology and Head of the Department of Sociology, Gender and Social Work at the University of Otago, New Zealand.

    This course was organized to build analytical skills and strengthen knowledge related to food and agriculture, such as food production and its consequences on the environment across the recent crisis. Professor Campbell particularly shared insights on the “Food Regime theory, which seeks to explain the periods of stability and periods of transformational crisis in world food relations. This theory stems from a long durée analysis political economy of agriculture and food developed in the end of the 1980s. Not only did the course explore the theories that helped to explain the cultural and political dynamics and changes around food, but also, students could examine the alternatives that support a “food from somewhere” regime, not a “food from nowhere” regime. In the last day of the course, students had the chance to present their research and experiences related to the concepts they learned in class.

    At the end of the course, we asked Professor Campbell few questions about his experiences at Kyoto University and his ideas about agrifood and sustainability issues.

    Q1: Is this your first time teaching at Kyoto University? How was your experience here?
    Hugh Campbell: Yes, it is my first time teaching an intensive course at Kyoto University. It has been a wonderful experience coming to Kyoto and the university is a lovely place to visit, you are very well supported and the course has been very enjoyable.

    Q2: How did the students in this course compared to the students in New Zealand and other countries you have been to?
    Hugh Campbell: There are some quite important differences. The group of students that come to Kyoto are generally talented international graduate students. As they are coming from all around the world, they bring their own perspectives. There is a lot of strong input from different places around the world. Whilst in the class there was a group of Japanese students with a lot of interesting insight about Japan itself. There is also a strong cohort of Chinese students, they brought a lot of interesting information about the recent things happening in China. So, really, as a professor, I learned a great deal from the students themselves. In terms of their own experiences and the places, they come from.

    Q3: For the past several decades, the concept of sustainability has become an important concept in development. Your lecture series focused on agriculture, food and environmental crisis. From your experiences, what would you describe as the main challenge of sustainability of our modern era?
    Hugh Campbell: I’m an Agrifood scholar. I’m very interested in the sustainability of agriculture and food systems. The great challenge that we are facing at this moment is that the entire system of corporate industrial food relations is careering towards a crisis and collapse, where there is a number of stresses in that system, and there is, in areas in terms of soil availability, in term if water availability, in terms of social and political sustainability of small-scale farming, in all of a lot of levels, the corporate industrial food system is heading towards a crisis. So, my main concern in terms of how we respond to that in a sustainability framework is how to create the alternatives, how to create the space of hope, how to create the experiments, how to create different ways of doing things at different scales. That way, when corporate industrial food system crashes, we have some alternatives and we can survive the challenging transition after that.

    Q4: What is your message for students of Kyoto University and for those who are interested in agrifood studies in general?
    Hugh Campbell: Well, agrifood issues are one of the great challenges of the 21st Century, lining up with energy and climate change. The sustainability of agriculture and food systems is fundamental to our ability to survive to the end of this century and through the 22nd as well. So, for students coming here, they get the chance of studying things that are fundamental and important to the future survival on the planet. But also, the chance to come here is enhanced by the fact that there is a lot of visiting scholars from all around the world. They are all eminent world leaders in their field and you really get the chance in a very small and intensive short course to have a very sort of close intellectual engagement with these leaders in the field. So, this is an amazing opportunity for students to come to Kyoto University and take one of these courses.
    Other comments or messages you want to add?
    Hugh Campbell: I think for visiting professors coming here, Kyoto University is very well-organized university and visits are very well supported. So, with my experience coming here, the administrative support for the program and the facility for the course were very good. I really had a clear sense of what I needed to do, and I got good advice on transportation, accommodations, and other related matters. So, for people who are nervous about going to a foreign country as a visiting scholar, you really have no worries about Kyoto University, they do a great job.

    Biography of Hugh Campbell

    Dr Hugh Campbell is Chair of Sociology as well as Head of the Department of Sociology, Gender & Social Work at the University of Otago. He was also the Director of the Centre (formerly CSAFE) from 2000 to 2010. Hugh comes from the Waikato, with family in Hawkes Bay sheep farming and Taranaki dairying.

    A long-term interest in issues involving agriculture and food has stayed with him in his subsequent career as a social scientist. Upon completing a Master’s in Social Anthropology at the University of Otago, he then took his PhD in Rural Sociology at the Centre for Rural Social Research, Charles Sturt University, New South Wales. When he returned to the University of Otago in 1994, he developed a series of university courses on rural society in New Zealand and on the global politics of food.

    Since 1995, Hugh has had a leadership role in two large research projects funded by the Ministry of Science and Innovation (MSI). From 1995-2002, he was the Programme Leader of an MSI-funded programme, Greening Food: Social and Industry Dynamics. This programme examined the social and economic dimensions of developing sustainable agriculture in New Zealand. Specifically, the programme examined the development of organic production and Integrated Pest Management systems by food export organisations like Zespri and ENZA. This provided a strong research base for Hugh’s subsequent interest in food auditing, new governance structures in food chains, environmental auditing, and the necessity to shift New Zealand food exporting from ‘quantities to qualities.’

    Since 2003, Hugh has co-led the social research objective in the MSI-funded Agriculture Research Group on Sustainability (ARGOS) Programme. This programme is considered to be the largest current study of ‘farm-scale’ sustainability in the world. Working with the kiwifruit, dairy, and sheep/beef sectors, the ARGOS programme has brought together 30 researchers from Otago and Lincoln Universities, and from the Agribusiness Group in Christchurch. It is undertaking a long-term study of social, economic and environmental dynamics on a group of over 100 farms and orchards in New Zealand.

    Apart from his work in leading research programmes, Hugh has also published research findings on the social dynamics of rural New Zealand, food systems and agriculture. He has edited two books and published in the international journals Sociologia Ruralis, Rural Sociology, Agriculture and Human Values, Journal of Rural Studies, and the International Journal of Sociology of Agriculture and Food.