In recent years new types of consumer–producer cooperation in food networks have emerged in which consumers play an active role in the operation and thereby clearly go beyond food provisioning as such. Examples include consumer co-ops and solidarity buying groups of local and organic food, community-supported agriculture and collective urban gardening initiatives. These initiatives raise important new questions that cannot be adequately resolved within existing theoretical perspectives based on concepts such as ‘alternative food networks’, ‘short food supply chains’ or ‘local food systems’. This article explores possible new analytical frameworks for the study of contemporary dynamics in food networks and develops the concept of ‘civic food networks’ as an overarching concept to explore contemporary dynamics and sources of innovation within agri-food networks. Building on the empirical diversity of initiatives, this introduction to the Special Issue argues that the role of civil society as a governance mechanism for agri-food networks has increased in significance compared to market and state actors. Moreover, expressions of ‘food citizenship’ are reshaping the relation between food practices and the market as well as with public institutions in ways that go beyond material and economic exchange and that contribute to a ‘moralization’ (or even ‘civilization’) of food economies.
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