In this article we combine social practice theory and interaction ritual
theory to better understand the dynamics of learning processes in alternative food
networks, and how these influence levels of alternative food network engagement.
We apply this combination to the study of a solidarity purchasing group in
southern Italy. We show that the levels of emotional energy built up between different
groups of people within this solidarity purchasing group explain the extent
to which participants are willing and able to overcome the practical difficulties
associated with being part of the solidarity purchasing group, and change their
routines accordingly. We recognize two different groups of users, with different
levels of emotional energy; they vary according to the extent to which participants
share motivations and understandings. The two groups attach different meanings
to their involvement and associate those meanings with different activities that
solidarity purchasing group engagement entails. We conclude that the two groups
engage in different social practices – even though they are part of the same solidarity
purchasing group. This finding provides insights into the heterogeneity
both within and between alternative food networks as described in the literature;
it explains different degrees of involvement, as well as reasons not to incur the
practical costs associated with solidarity purchasing group involvement by quitting.
Our study applies the idea of Weenink and Spaargaren that emotional energy
can function as an explanatory force regarding why people engage in certain
practices, and it sheds more light on how to define a practice.