European Society for Rural Sociology Summer School 2014 – Report from Henry Buller

The 2014 ESRS Summer School, organized by Claire Lamine, assisted by Elsa Faugère and Lucile Garcon, took place between the 8th and the 12th September in the Centre Olivier de Serres in the Ardeche département of France.

Twelve PhD students from France, Italy, the UK, Latvia, Denmark, Poland, the Netherlands, Kenya, Brazil and Germany were joined by nine academics including David Goodman and Henry Buller from the UK, Christian Deverre, Nathalie Jas and Yuna Chiffoleau from France (plus Claire and Elsa), Henk Renting from the Netherlands and Gianluca Brunori from Italy. The overall focus of the Summer School was ‘Theoretical approaches to the Ecologisation of Food Production’ though the papers, both from students and academics ranged widely to include several examples of short food chains and local food networks, certification processes, cooperative forestry management, food systems analysis, community food and gardens, animal welfare, and so on. Plenary student presentations were followed by one-to-one discussions between individual students and academics and small group workshops, in a way that allowed detailed discussion of pre-submitted manuscripts, whether draft thesis chapters or early versions of papers destined for publication. Interspersed with these were a number of more formal presentations by the academics present again on a range of different themes. Out of all these stimulating presentations and lively debate, a number of themes emerged that merit comment: the importance give to ‘transition theory’ in a number of student presentations, the enduring (though sometimes problematic) strength and methodological challenges of ‘actor network theory’ as an approach, the continuing validity of ‘social network analysis’, the pervasiveness of STS, the contested value of food regime analysis and the durability, profundity and relevance of ecologisation as a genuine process of long-term change.
This was a Summer School about agriculture and food production. Fitting then that it should take place at the home of Olivier de Serres, the great seventeenth century French agriculturalist and ‘father of modern agronomy’. Participants toured the archival gardens, ate the goats cheese and drank the wine. A number of excursions were organized; to the hillside town of Balazuc and the ‘alternative’, inspiring and somehow Tolkeinesque communal village of Le Vieil Audon, to the community garden and bookshop bar of Aubenas (where Beer and Baudrillard meet), to a local seven generation-old beef farm and, finally, and most fittingly, to Claire Lamine’s own Ardeche hideaway where a communally prepared and consumed meal, with musical accompaniment, marked a highpoint of the week. This was a fantastically stimulating and enjoyable time of mutual learning and exchange in a rural setting surrounded by goats, peacocks and all manner of non-humans. It is what the European Society for Rural Sociology is all about. A huge thanks to Claire, whose capabilities ensured the well-being of us all, for organizing it.

Henry Buller. 2014.

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