PhD research: A short summary

My PhD research was done at the Centre for Agroecology and Water Resilience, at Coventry University.

At Coventry, when you sit your viva voce, the final examination for doctoral researchers, you are allowed (encouraged, even) to do a presentation as part of the process. It gives everyone a chance to settle in, and you the opportunity to give an overview of your work (and to highlight the parts of your research that you are particularly keen on). You can find a video of my presentation below.

PhD research

My research focussed on how competition, cooperation, and self-organisation impact local agri-food systems (LAFS)1.

LAFS practitioners have to do a lot – they have to navigate complicated working experiences, relationships, and changes in political and social landscapes. In order to respond to constant change, they have to self-organise a lot, which requires three important things – agency, demand, and resource. Without all three of these things, people might consider doing stuff, but it never fully manifests.

Additionally, LAFS practitioners simultaneously cooperate and compete. This has a (sort of painful) portmanteau: coopetition. Coopetition is becoming more well-known in business and economics research, where teams or companies may be in competition for market share, but work together on projects, sourcing, etc. In LAFS, which may not be in the business of business, they still exhibit similar behaviours. Some of this is just people being people, but some of it is driven by those shifting landscapes I mentioned before. And, that can intersect with self-organisation – when it happens, why it happens, and how that can impact the ongoing resilience of LAFS.

So what?

So, LAFS provide essential services. They are part of a complex, multi-scalar food system that provides food, employment, education, food aid, and health benefits. They provide a safety net in times of crisis, and can be much more flexible than large globalised systems (I refer you to the Covid-19 pandemic, when LAFS leapt into action, and fed huge numbers of people when many supermarkets couldn’t).

They are wonderful, exciting, and complicated places to work, and they need support in order to continue functioning. Without enough resource like staff, funding, time, access to food, training, etc., LAFS can become overly competitive with each other, may cooperate with the wrong people, or become too stressed to successfully self-organise. Other people have said it before, but I’m reiterating it here: support local food. They are important, and we need them. They are important and they need us. Support local food.

Presentation video

Without further ado, here is my presentation. It’s roughly 15 minutes long, and takes you on a quick tour of what I did, where I did it, and what I found.2

  1. I published two papers from my research, which can both be found here. ↩︎
  2. If this isn’t loading, you can find the video here. ↩︎

Cover art by Ellen Burnett