The "Real” Organic Food in China The Tradition-Modern Divide and the Role of Boundary Work



Published May 1, 2022
Xueshi Li


It is important to study governance in alternative market fields as a set of knowledge /rationalities that structures collaboration for everyday knowledge making by the participants. This article examines how two camps of advocates negotiate the definition of what composes civic organic food. A divide has emerged in the community of Beijing civic organic growers between organic agricultural producers who espouse traditional approaches, and those who rely on modern approaches. The ambiguity of the civic organic standards opens up a contingent arena for participation and negotiating boundaries between “traditional” and “scientific” organic practices outside the current “certified” version of organic food in China. This article applies the framework of boundary work to demonstrate how alternative market actors maintain boundaries between real and fraudulent organic food by engaging in debates with the rival camp. The boundaries between traditional and modern scientific organic camps are not defined by the pre-existing or by the internal properties of any given knowledge system as certain producers have claimed/presented. Instead, these situated social actors, through a set of ongoing dynamics in their daily practices, are constantly constructing and transforming the boundaries of the civic organic food supply. This is also how they attempt to gain legitimacy for their practice even though non-certified organic has never been recognized by the state. Growers’ reputation, public exposure, and consumers’ judgement on the moral compass of producers have all been influential factors in maintaining the legitimacy of civic organic in alternative food networks. 

How to Cite

Li, X. (2022) “The "Real” Organic Food in China: The Tradition-Modern Divide and the Role of Boundary Work”, The International Journal of Sociology of Agriculture and Food. Paris, France, 28(1), pp. 43–57. doi: 10.48416/ijsaf.v28i1.71.
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Civic Organic Food, Modernity, Boundary Work, China, Food Governance

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