Citizenship and Responsive Governance

A critical perspective on citizenship, collective action and responsive governance for sustainable food systems.



Society as a whole is witnessing the ‘rise’ of individuals, groups and collectives, being associative in their desires and wishes and creative in arrangements and assemblies to getting things done. Importantly for spatial planning, such groups and individuals are also connecting sensitively to their local spaces, places and environment, making creative use of alternative sources of information and networks for the benefit of their communities. Often this is done with an underlying goal of increasing the sustainability and well-being in a place with which they are attached. These phenomena are part of a trend which has been termed by scholars and policy-makers as the ‘do-democracy’, ‘sharing economy’, ‘energetic society’ or the ‘participative society’. Active citizenship – e.g. in the form of change leaders, connectors or collective agency– can be a reaction to change or be rooted in an inner motivation to change a situation. Examples of active citizenship can be found in the form of energy cooperatives, community garden projects and co-management of land to deliver social, economic and environmental benefits. Parallel to the above trend, we see an erosion of the representative democracy in terms of decreasing trust, legitimacy, and efficiency of the state, and a pressure on the traditional European welfare state. We also witness misconceptions and pitfalls related to participation (discourse), such as the moral plea for ‘good citizens’ and the retreat of governments handing over tasks to ‘resilient’ citizens to save costs. This raises questions about the potential shift towards a ‘post-policy era’ along with its spatial and political consequences.

The aim of this research study is to critically analyze the concept of (active) citizenship and the ‘crisis’ in representative democracy and to explore how a more responsive planning can enable societal dynamics. As one main line of enquiry the project could place emphasis on exploring the ways different Urban Food Initiatives (UFI) can act as an entry point into critically rethinking urban environmental and social sustainability and power relations. Core questions in this context –include - How does food system activism enable a critical reconceptualization of citizenship and what does citizenship in this context mean? How can responsive sociospatial planning and governance enable citizen activism while safeguarding principles of representative democracy? Who has the responsibility to realize the sustainability and inclusiveness across the food chain in theory, and what happens in practice? Through what mechanisms are the practices of active citizens and groups being framed in a neo-liberal discourse to justify the ‘retreat’ of the state from their obligations in safeguarding the right to resources such as (healthy) food?

Expected Results

Transdisciplinary analysis and comparison of state discourses on citizenship and the framing of rights and responsibilities (in the context of e.g. food security; environmental degradation); Analysis of practices (with the focus on UFIs) which result in an erosion of the representative democracy; exploration of the consequences of a shift towards a post-policy era; policy-recommendations for how a responsive multi-level governance can enable societal action and participation; recommendations of how planning can enhance the freedoms and wellbeing of marginalized actors in the food system.