A reflexive discourse of the local place: urban food gardeners in Brisbane, Australia

Mangru, Sari (2015). A reflexive discourse of the local place: urban food gardeners in Brisbane, Australia MPhil Thesis, School of Social Science, The University of Queensland. doi:10.14264/uql.2015.519

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Author Mangru, Sari
Thesis Title A reflexive discourse of the local place: urban food gardeners in Brisbane, Australia
School, Centre or Institute School of Social Science
Institution The University of Queensland
DOI 10.14264/uql.2015.519
Publication date 2015-04-24
Thesis type MPhil Thesis
Open Access Status Other
Supervisor Peter Walters
Carol Richards
Total pages 145
Language eng
Subjects 1608 Sociology
1604 Human Geography
Formatted abstract
In response to the dissatisfaction with the pitfalls of the corporatised global food system over the last two decades, urban dwellers in the Global North have begun to implement alternative food initiatives (AFIs). AFIs tend to be underpinned by discourses of localism with discursive emphasis on the local place where communities can embed food production and distribution with an ethics of care, social justice and ecological responsibility. Urban AFIs consist of biochemical free production initiatives such as: commercial urban agriculture projects (city farms); growing food on sidewalk verges, vacant land and in community and backyard gardens; and distribution initiatives of crop swaps; farmers’ markets; and box schemes. This thesis builds on a growing body of research that often discuss the constructions of localism discourses with some arguing that AFIs in the developed world should realise a ‘reflexive’ localism underpinned by a discourse that acknowledges issues at scales other than the geographic point of local system i.e. discursive emphasis on structural political change at state and global scales. Critics of many current AFIs claim that the lack of capacity of AFIs to challenge, or at least offer a viable alternative to, the corporatised global food system is partly due to practitioners’ articulations of an ‘unreflexive’ discourse of defensive localism. The discourse of defensive localism embeds a non-negotiable geographic boundary enclosing a particular cohort’s personal sentiments and values, which are unrepresentative of local issues at that particular place. An ‘unreflexive’ discourse of defensive localism includes discursive emphasis on personal responsibility, voluntary action, competition and efficiency.

This thesis examines this phenomenon and is based on theorisations of subjective reflexivity and constructions of discourses at the local place, focusing on urban backyard and community garden food gardeners in the city of Brisbane, Australia. The question addressed by this thesis is: Are urban food gardeners in Brisbane, Australia merely growing food or reflexively constructing the local place as a response to a dysfunctional food system?

The research question is explored using a qualitative, social constructivist epistemology. Using a methodology of discourse analysis, semi-structured interviews were conducted with 19 urban food gardeners who produced some of their household food requirements in community gardens and household backyards. Urban food gardeners viewed the hegemonic food system in Queensland as dysfunctional based on perceptions of the ecologically unsound, mechanised cultivation practices and unequal power relations that favour large scale food retailers over farmers —interpretations that conform in many respects to Marx’s concept of metabolic rift.

Interpretations of gardeners’ strategies and motivations were theorised using Farrugia’s (2013) ‘reflexive subjectivity theory’ along with food and agriculture studies that approach the implications of constructions of localism discourses with theorisations of ‘place’ proposed by human geographers.

By using these theoretical approaches, it was revealed that urban food gardeners in Brisbane have developed a localism discourse which emphasises: self-reliance; building links to the community; building links to the environment, repairing the metabolic rift; and ethical livelihoods based on market and non-market food economies. Within this discursive terrain, the feature importance is the positioning of activities at multiple scales of the garden, suburb or nation.

The thesis concludes that Brisbane-based urban food gardeners are underpinning their approach to the local with a reflexive localism discourse that challenges the hegemonic food system by engaging with ecological realties and personal sentiments at the garden site, building community knowledge through teaching how to grow food using ecological systems at the scale of the suburb; and the development of an ecological based and socially just food economy scaled to include the State.

Keyword Food

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Created: Wed, 08 Apr 2015, 12:51:37 EST by Sari Mangru on behalf of Scholarly Communication and Digitisation Service