The Social Life of British Organic Biodynamic Wheat: Biopolitics, Biopower and Governance

  • Samantha Outhwaite

Student thesis: Phd


This thesis unpacks the social life of an alternative food "thing". It is empirically grounded in an intensive ethnography and draws on the conceptual resources of Actor-Network Theory (ANT) to narrate alterity as it is manifest in an alternative food network (AFN). Following and tracing British Organic Biodynamic (BOB) wheat, the research weaves through the seed (from breeding to certification), the grain crop's cultivation, harvest and milling, and the final transformations from flour to real bread and its consumption. The storying of the BOB wheat's social life, its social relations and subsequent transformations reveals a persistent blurring of formal distinctions separating 'nature' and 'culture', humans and nonhumans, and production and consumption. Most importantly, it disrupts the traditional categorization of food networks as either 'conventional' or 'alternative'. The analysis of the BOB wheat's social life betrays the imagined purity of alterity of this supposed alternative food network, unveiling a heterogeneous web of hybrid actants and multiple performances of wheats. The analysis reveals a conflict within the BOB wheat network, by demonstrating how performances that are presented as deeply incommensurable are nevertheless inextricably and intimately connected. Consequently, 'conventional', and some 'more-than-conventional', performances threaten to undermine the BOB wheat networks' legitimacy as an AFN. Further, they intimate an ontological impurity that threatens the very possibility of alterity. Accordingly, my analysis narrates the BOB wheat network's efforts to stabilize alterity and expand the collective, through the purification of these incommensurable versions of the wheat. Ultimately, this process of purification works to persistently reconstitute modern ontological binaries, specifically the alternative-convention bifurcations of food networks. To conclude I suggest that this purification, the making and manifesting of alterity, is woven through the contemporary biopolitical dispositive - persistently circulating and remaking, Modern ontological framings of reality as well as the moral and ethical values therein.
Date of Award1 Aug 2017
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorNick Crossley (Supervisor) & David Evans (Supervisor)


  • Alterity
  • Biopolitics
  • Actor-Network Theory
  • Alternative Food Networks
  • Multiplicity

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