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Food Security, Wicked Problem and/ or Weak Problem? Global Issues and Agenda Setting in International Governance

Development
Governance
International Relations
Global
Agenda-Setting

Abstract

The 2008 world food crisis has become a conventional marker to situate a renewed public and international interest in food security. This renewed public interest for food security has been often analyzed in terms of its complexification, from a single issue/ agriculture-based problem to a complex, uncertain and cross-cutting problem, involving various sorts of topics, approaches and actors. Social sciences describe such a shift as the making of a ‘wicked problem’, and have accounted for the consequences, the tensions or the new capabilities which arise from the governance of wicked problem. While this approach is per se entirely relevant, this communication will give a complementary account of the transformations that food security has recently undergone, by exploring issues of agenda setting in the ‘international community’. That is, while the ‘wicked problem’ approach makes it possible to seize horizontal issues regarding a given problem, and treats it from an internal perspective, this communication will adopt an external perspective of hierarchy, competition, articulation and integration among/ between different public problems. This question is particularly relevant for food security, which seems to be subject to phenomena of cyclical public attention, and to ‘benefit’ from momentum primarily in times of crises (famines, food riots, etc.). So how do actors involved in the field of food security cope with this constraint? Can they use crises as an opportunity to build new alliances? Are their strategies limited to short-term gains or can they also change things in the long term? How do they handle the competition with other global issues (typically, climate change) within international policy arenas? Do the fluctuations of public attention affect the ways in which a problem is governed (actors, loci, tools)? As a more conceptual question, is it possible to articulate the wicked problems approach with issues of agenda setting and competition among public problems? This communication will explore these questions by drawing on various cases (UK, EU) and will account in particular for two strategies: scaling-up food security (i.e. stabilizing it at a higher level in the hierarchy of public problems) and integration (i.e. presenting food security as a solution for other public problems).