Collaborating for Change A Social Practices Approach to Partnerships for Sustainable Food and Agriculture



Published Dec 31, 2021
Tjitske Anna Zwart Machiel Lamers

Erik Mathijs


Worldwide, partnerships are popular vehicles for addressing (agro-food related) sustainability challenges. Their popularity is reflected in a proliferation of studies on partnerships. Yet, the current body of literature does not sufficiently take into account: (i) the importance of the institutional contexts in which the partnerships are embedded; and (ii) how interactions and tensions between the different partners influence the process of shaping the partnership over time. Therefore, in this paper, we aim to gain in-depth insights on processes of shaping a partnership for sustainable agriculture and food, and the role that the context in which a partnership is embedded plays in these processes. Our findings are based on the single case study of a participatory action research project of a partnership in Belgium. In our analysis, we take a social practices approach and thus conceptualise partnerships as different sets of practices from which a new set of practices is created. The results show that in talking about the sustainability of agriculture and food, it is important to take into account existing practice bundles because: (i) they set the scene in which sustainability innovations are shaped; and (ii) they create the boundaries for possible kinds of change. Participating in a new set of practices requires a move away from ‘normal’ ways of working. Yet, although there are shared goals and practices, each partner organisation is also constrained by and working towards its own goals. This is likewise the case for how ‘sustainability’ is shaped, implying that existing practices play an important role in shaping ‘sustainable’ practices. In turn, these findings highlight the need to not simply assume that partnerships will contribute to sustainability transitions, but also to reflect on: (i) whether and how this might be the case; and (ii) who or what factors have the power in shaping and defining ‘sustainability’.

How to Cite

Zwart, T. A., Lamers, M. and Mathijs, E. (2021) “Collaborating for Change: A Social Practices Approach to Partnerships for Sustainable Food and Agriculture ”, The International Journal of Sociology of Agriculture and Food. Paris, France, 27(2), pp. 73–88. doi: 10.48416/ijsaf.v27i2.79.
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agriculture, food, partnership, practices, Social Practice Theories, sustainability

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