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Religion and Political Theory: Secularism, Accommodation and The New Challenges of Religious Diversity, Edited by Jonathan Seglow and Andrew Shorten

Contesting the Norms of Public-Private Co-Regulation of the Agri-Food System: Assessing the Ideational Power of the Food Democracy Discourse

Political Participation
Social Justice
Normative Theory
Julia Dennis
Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
Peter H. Feindt
Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
Julia Dennis
Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
Peter H. Feindt
Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

The apparent consensus around agri-food policy has recently been challenged from various angles. Under the heading of ‘food democracy’, one important line of dissent has challenged the often expertocratic and production-oriented constitution of agri-food governance. This paper analyses the new normative divides in agri-food governance that are articulated in the food democracy discourse with a particular view to the emergence of global public-private standards for food and agriculture. These normative divides run along several dimensions: the emphasis on local and decentralized solutions as opposed to the globalization of value chains; the demand for agri-food systems that are more integrated into their social and ecological environments; the championing of locality and specialty over global harmonization and standardization; and the call for more grassroots political mobilization rather than technocratic and sedating forms of social control of the food system.
This paper presents critical analysis of the food democracy discourse from its origins to the present. Working from a discursive institutionalist perspective, we will reconstruct processes of translation, articulation and institutionalization of food democracy. The analysis is used to assess the types of normative values internally legitimized by the concept (e.g., democracy, citizenship, participation) and externally delegitimized or contested (food security, scarcity, sustainability). As a result, a distilled, cross-discursive map of the norms articulated in the food democracy discourse will be presented. This will be contrasted with public-private norm setting through co-regulation in the global food regime, which includes public institutions such as CODEX, SPS and WTO, private initiatives like GlobalGAP, and hybrids such as privatized layering of global organic standards. In the final section, the paper will discuss whether food democracy, as a counter discourse, provides sufficient ideational power for democratization of these norms in co-regulation. For example, will discourses relabelling consumer and producers as food citizens help to change society’s expectations of institutions? Or are criticisms of food democracy (as co-opted, localist, elitist) preventing wider contestation? This work adds to a discussion of the institutionalization of counter-discourses and empirical assessment of how food democracy may be advanced in public-private global agri-food governance.
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