Blog post by Daphne Page, PhD candidate at the Centre for Food Policy, City University London.
I indulged in a bit of ‘disciplinary tourism’ this past week by attending the Nexus Network Resource Conflicts and Social Justice workshop on Monday 29 Feb 2016, in Sussex. My work focuses on the development of sustainable urban agriculture policies, and local level sustainability transitions is a big part of that, so I thought that this might be a good opportunity to explore my themes in a wider context.
The tricky bit is that I found it hard to pin down what this ‘Nexus’ is…
The ‘Where’s Wally’ example presented by Nick Hildyard of the Cornerhouse and entertainingly expanded on by Ian Scoones from IDS summed up my feeling on this. I was trying to find Wally-the-Nexus-definition amongst these huge systems that were being discussed.
(If you are not familiar with ‘Where’s Wally’ these are picture books where readers are challenged to find a character called Wally hidden in a large group).
I scribbled diagrams of sustainability to visualize where this Nexus might fit in, or concentric rings with the Nexus at the centre, embedded within Social Justice, Corporate Social Responsibility, the global economic system, consumerism, etc.
As an outsider, I was trying to piece together just where this big connecting piece fits in to our academic dialogue and my own work. How does this fit into sustainability and transitions?
Erik Millstone from the University of Sussex simplified it as ‘Ecology 101’, and thinking back over the day, it seems to me that what the Nexus is trying to accomplish is what I’ve come to know in local food policy development as ‘systems thinking’.
That being said, I think the diverse backgrounds and presentations of the speakers encapsulated that systems view. We had speakers talk about water, infrastructure, and global security, and we discussed the broad scope of the Nexus from the global economic, national, corporate levels to the community and individual impacts.
In the afternoon session, our first speaker (beaming in from South Africa) Aurelia Van Eeden from Frost & Sullivan, had a very optimistic view of the role that corporations had to play in addressing consumption practices through Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives.
This kicked off a dialogue where Dorothy Guerrero from the Transnational Institute gave an activist’s perspective on corporate power and how the neoliberal economy is affecting people’s lives – largely through being told what the conventional view of development is, and not having the option of opting out. She reminds us that even though governments and individuals (using my new favourite term, ‘Super Consumers’) have huge roles to play in changing their policies and practices, the ‘clean up’ of bad consumption and production practices is largely being put back to corporate actors.
Alex Bolding from Wageningen UR expanded on this by asking “how do we then make companies accountable?” When companies are so powerful that they can take over aspects of government infrastructure, this poses a big problem, particularly for small communities and individuals – the relatively powerless within this system.
Dorothy used the example of the refugee crisis in Europe to consider how climate refugees will be received in the coming decades, as island nations face sea level rise. This is just one of many examples given throughout the day highlighting the imbalance of our current system, and where people are being squeezed by more powerful players in their interactions with food, water, energy and environment.
None of us can be sure of how the various actors will or won’t step up in our struggles with these essential resources, but I hope that at some point soon we (governments, corporations, and academic tourists like myself) find a common language – one of equity and the long term – to talk about our systems and the Nexus where they meet.
About the author
Daphne Page is a PhD Researcher at City University London’s Centre for Food Policy. After conducting her Master’s research on Toronto’s emerging rooftop urban agriculture network and its links to local policy, she expanded the scope of her work to address how the (ever fuzzy) concept of sustainability is being conceived of by policy makers and applied to local urban food strategies across the UK, and how urban agriculture is intended to meet bespoke local sustainability objectives.
Where’s Wally image credit – with thanks to William Murphy on flickr.