Alternatives from 'within': analysing the imaginaries and economic spaces of 'local food'

Student thesis: Phd


Local food has become the most prominent alternative to the conventional and neoliberal food system and its socio-ecological challenges. Although the transformative potential of local and alternative food networks has been widely addressed, this thesis identifies a 'theoretical impasse' in the evaluation of alterity, as 'sceptics' and 'believers' tend to create overly alternative or neoliberal readings of local food. In this way, local food can simultaneously embed economic relations and contribute to processes of commodification and marketisation. These opposed representations are partly the result of an inadequate integration of socio-cultural and political economic dimensions. The thesis contributes to a processual and conjunctural analysis of diverse local food initiatives, employing a Cultural Political Economy (CPE) approach that situates them as part of a broader process of social change. Through CPE, this thesis analyses the processes of socio-economic emergence, diverse materialisations, and contingent institutionalisation of local food. A CPE of agri-food alternatives is proposed by complementing the approach with a moral economy perspective and conjunctural analysis to interrogate alterity. The thesis examines the role of people's values and evaluations of the 'multiple crises of the food system' (agri-food imaginaries) in shaping local food economic strategies in three local food economies in the North of England and evaluates the normative effects of the diverse value practices. It finds that some value practices attribute worth and redefine the products of local food as 'food from somewhere', with the intention of valorising them in the market. However, other value practices are strategically oriented to capture value through other means, such as building partnerships or accessing productive resources outside market relations, which coordinate the market or restrict its role of food provisioning. Hence, some local food strategies are sub-hegemonic, while others are alter-hegemonic or counter-hegemonic. The possibilities for alternatives to become historically effective is shaped by a political process that develops across multiple scales. In the current conjuncture propelled by Brexit, a renewed consensus for maintaining neoliberal hegemony is based on incorporating environmental concerns while extending market-based forms of governance vis-a-vis the withdrawal of state support. The shift in this conjuncture has the double effect of creating further structural selectivities for the marketisation of alternatives, while marginalising more radical forms of food alternatives.
Date of Award31 Dec 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorMartin Hess (Supervisor), Martin Dodge (Supervisor) & Aurora Fredriksen (Supervisor)


  • Agri-food imaginaries
  • Local food
  • Neoliberalism
  • Cultural political economy
  • Value practices
  • Alternatives
  • Market

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