Evolving urban agroecology with deep democracy - action research in London, UK

  • Robert Logan

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    The aim of this thesis is to evolve urban agroecology with a central feature of ‘deep democracy’ whilst surviving and thriving in the neoliberal city. Urban agriculture has many social and environmental benefits but has experienced issues of viability and also faced criticism for entrenching social inequities in movement practice and discourse. With theoretical frameworks such as alternative food networks failing to fully answer questions posed by the limitations of urban agriculture, urban agroecology has been pointed to as a holistic and political framework to develop emancipatory urban food systems. With a need for empirical research to connect theory to on-the-ground empirics and the emerging praxis far from meeting its potential, this thesis contributes strategic and practical learnings towards developing economically viable urban agroecologies with transformative relationships and democratic practices.

    This thesis draws on insider action research from 2017-2019 based in a surfacing urban agroecology movement in London, UK. Two distinct organisational processes iteratively emerged within a young food hub at the Wolves Lane Horticultural Centre (WLHC), and a new entrant agroecological workers’ co-operative, London Grown Workers’ Cooperative (LGWC), both based on public land. The former enquiry focused on developing a community-led food policy for the food hub as a democratic intervention, and the latter explored issues of viability in relation to generating anti-capitalist livelihoods within the neoliberal city coupled with evaluation of the workers’ co-operative as an elevating model for urban agroecology. The enquiries combined engaged with 67 people and implemented eight different participatory and qualitative methods: photovoice, community mapping, graphic harvest, document analysis, focus groups, auto-ethnography, community cookery, and semi-structured interviews.

    Based on findings in the organisational enquiries, the thesis argues that the joint development of diálogos de saberes (dialogue among different knowledges and ways of knowing) and a ‘prefigurative compromise’ with the market, to generate viable place-making transformations in inequitable neoliberal contexts, is necessary to evolve urban agroecology with deep food democracy. I propose that accompanying research findings can support this strategic relationship, these being: a ‘critical lovingness’ embedded in organisational structures underpinned by an anti-oppression framework; creative popular education included in a transformative agroecological learning framework for Europe; and extending cooperative membership beyond worker identities. Overall, the thesis argues that securing long-term financial investment must be a short-term strategic aim over gifting economies, in order to create more stable, equitable foundations from which to develop autonomous commons-to-commons economies in the medium to long term.
    Date of AwardFeb 2021
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • Coventry University
    SupervisorChiara Tornaghi (Supervisor), Ulrich Schmutz (Supervisor) & Marina Chang (Supervisor)

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