Framing of Agri-food Research Affects the Analysis of Food Security: The Critical Role of the Social Sciences
International Journal of Sociology of Agriculture and Food
Volume 19, issue 2 (2012), pages 162-175
Author: Marta G. Rivera-Ferre
In our knowledge society, science plays a key role in policy-making through the production of assessments that provide evidence-based information to decision-makers. In that manner, science has also gained significant political power. This is an enormous responsibility for scientists but also constitutes a dangerous situation, since different social discourses lead to different analyses of a given problem, and to different solutions with very different impacts. Generally, this is the case of agri-food assessments, including food security, where impacts are huge given the present situation of nearly 1,000 million people suffering from hunger. In agri-food sciences framing of the research is mainly determined by two factors: the linkages between science and the concept of development, and the role given to agriculture in society. In general, it is easy to find two different opposite types of framing, with different objects of study, methods and characteristics. One type, which I refer to as official framing, tends to separate social and natural sciences, is more simplistic in analysing the causes of hunger, of food price crises or other important issues affecting food security. This type of scientific assessment usually regards solutions as more technical rather than social and/or political, and aims to find a panacea that can provide solutions to a given problem, in this case hunger. On the other side we have scientific evaluations, here alternative framing, which tend to be inter/trans-disciplinary, with a higher participation of social sciences. In this case, analyses tend to conceive agri-food system as complex systems, problems are normally more political than technical, and solutions tend to be diverse, contextual to each social, cultural and environmental context. In this sense, to encourage a change in agri-food assessments that recognizes the role of social sciences in addressing food security, critical social scientists can facilitate the introduction of frameworks developed by sustainability scientists into agri-food science, including the study of agri-food systems as socio-ecological complex systems.