Leitheiser, Stephen

Leitheiser, Stephen

Research Fellow

Department of Spatial Planning and Environment, University of Groningen, the Netherlands

Research Interest

My research aims to contribute to a theory of the commons as an alternative form of governance by analyzing practices and processes of commoning in urban food initiatives.  I am particularly interested in investigating bottom-up innovations striving to create more sustainable urban spaces, and more just supply chains and markets into which everyday urban life is embedded.  I am inspired by the balance found in "pragmatic idealism" and "utopian realism", and have a personal passion for ‘real' food production, preparation and consumption.


 I recently completed my MSc at the University of Cologne in Germany where I focused on political ecology, geography and environmental law.  I grew up in Wisconsin (known as “America’s Dairyland”) and feel lucky to have spent significant time traveling, working and experiencing landscapes and cultures in New Zealand, India and several countries across Europe in the past years.

Project summary

Individuals, groups and collectives are increasingly coming together to form social movements seeking more inclusive forms of participatory democracy. Increases in ‘active citizenship’ include desires to be involved in the shaping and governing of economic delivery systems – like energy and food – or the creation of alternative models, like co-operatives or community supported agriculture. Many of these movements aim to embody the principles of sustainable development – which include more focus on social and ecological priorities – while shifting understandings of contemporary citizenship and governance. In order to analyze these developments, this research explores the emergence of bottom-up Food Policy Councils (FPCs) led by ‘food citizens’ in Europe. As the global food system is increasingly seen by experts as in need of transformative change towards sustainability, FPCs seek ‘Food Democracy’. This generally means a shift of impact from the private to the public sphere – a ‘consumer choice’ to a ‘political voice’. This research uses a combination of participatory action research and visual methods to analyze the spread of Food Democracy movements in European cities. Data collection will include participatory video, participant observation, focus groups and in-depth interviews with active citizens.