Traversing Theory & Practice and the Governance Engagement Continuum

April 2019

By Kristen Lowitt, Jill Clark, and Peter Andrée 

Food systems are in crisis. For social movements and organizations working at the front lines to build more sustainable and just food systems, this crisis also represents an opportunity. Civil Society & Social Movements in Food System Governance provides an array of examples from the Global North of how members of food movements are attempting to make change by getting involved in food system decision-making, or ‘governance’, both inside and outside governments. Local government engagement is exemplified in the case of Correns, France, where organic food advocates have harnessed municipal government to further sustainable community development in their rural community. Formal government engagement at the national level is examined in a case study of participation in the national food policy consultation process in Canada. While another chapter highlights the case of social movement engagement in the World Committee on Food Security. 

Food governance is about more than simply working with governments. Governance refers to all of the relationships, processes, rules, practices, and structures through which power and control are exercised and decisions are made, whether by companies, organizations, governments, Indigenous authorities or international institutions. The case of the YYC Growers and Distributors, a new food producer’s cooperative in Alberta, exemplifies the creation of collaborative food system governance mechanisms outside of government, though the chapter on YYC also shows how local and provincial governments had to be engaged to ensure success. 

These are examples from just four of the ten chapters covered in this new book, which can be thought of as a primer for food system activists working to strengthen alliances and governance around their own innovations. Published in February 2019, Civil Society & Social Movements in Food System Governance includes chapters featuring case studies from Canada, the US, Europe and New Zealand. Most chapters are grounded in research supported through the FLEdGE project, and were discussed at a project workshop in September 2017. 

To set the scene for the on-the-ground case examples that follow, the book begins by introducing the concept of neoliberalism, or the predominance of the private sector and markets as prime concerns, as a defining feature of contemporary food systems. We also review the range of ways that social movements characterize the food system and seek to make change – from food security, to right to food, to food sovereignty. 

In addition, we present an original framework for thinking about the variety of forms that social movements engage in food system governance. We suggest these forms may be situated along a continuum, emphasizing how social movements experience and work with power. 

Governance Engagement Continuum: The role of food movements

This collection illustrates four main ideas:

  1. Food movements are increasingly engaging in governance to have a wider, systemic, impact.
  2. Food movements engage in governance at a variety of scales, though there is an emphasis on the local scale.
  3. The variety of forms that governance engagement takes can be placed along a continuum when considering the power that social movement actors wield.
  4. Building relationships with other actors based on mutual trust and commitment is central to achieving change. This volume highlights how many of the relationships built through local food  initiatives  may become the foundation for broader collaborations.

By examining and comparing a variety of ways social movements engage in decision-making, at a range of scales, the book offers insights for those considering contemporary food systems and their ongoing transformation by social movements. Alongside the cases featured in this book, we hope that the framework presented in Chapter 1 will be helpful for other communities and researchers to examine what is happening with food in their own backyards.

Civil Society and Social Movements in Food System Governance is an open-access book. You can read it online or download for free here.

Chapter Contributors

Peter Andrée is Associate Professor and Associate Chair in the Department of Political Science at Carleton University. His research focuses on the politics of food systems and the environment. He practices, and teaches, community-based participatory research methods.  Prof. Andrée is co-editor of Globalization and Food Sovereignty: Global and Local Change in the New Politics of Food (2014) and author of Genetically Modified Diplomacy (2007).


Jill K. Clark is an Associate Professor in the John Glenn College of Public Affairs at Ohio State University. Her research interests include food policy and practice, centering on community and state governance of food systems, the policy process, and public participation.



Charles Z. Levkoe is the Canada Research Chair in Sustainable Food Systems in the Department of Health Sciences at Lakehead University. Charles’ community-engaged research uses a food systems lens to explore connections between social justice, ecological regeneration, regional economies, and democratic engagement.



Kristen Lowitt is at the Department of Geography, Brandon University, Canada. Her research looks at the interactions among food security, communities, and natural resource management in rural and remote regions.



Carla Johnston is a Ph.D.  Candidate and a Doctoral Fellow at the Balsillie School of International Affairs. Her research interests include the governance of sustainable food systems in northern Canada as well as using Participatory Action Research (PAR) methodology to work directly with civil society groups to create meaningful actions that help them reach their goals.


Chapter Citations

Andrée, P., Clark, J., Levkoe, C., & Lowitt, K. (2019). Introduction – Traversing theory and practice. In P. Andrée, J.K. Clark, C. Z. Levkoe, & K. Lowitt (Eds.), Civil Society and Social Movements in Food Systems Governance (1-18). London: Routledge. DOI:

Andrée, P., Clark, J., Levkoe, C., Lowitt, K., & Johnston, C. (2019). The governance engagment continuum: Food movement mobilization and the execution of power through governance arrangements. In P. Andrée, J.K. Clark, C. Z. Levkoe, & K. Lowitt (Eds.), Civil Society and Social Movements in Food Systems Governance (19-42). London: Routledge. DOI:

The Civil Society & Social Movements in Food System Governance Blog Series showcases the chapters and themes from this open-access book. Follow along as we explore the governance of contemporary food systems and their ongoing transformation by social movements.