Open Access Journal

ISSN: 2183-2463

Article | Open Access

Collective Agency in the Making: How Social Innovations in the Food System Practice Democracy beyond Consumption

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Abstract:  As the deleterious impacts of conventional food systems on areas including public health, environmental sustainability, and farmers’ livelihoods are progressively unveiled, citizen-led initiatives have ubiquitously sprouted, collectively building what is now known as the alternative food system. Despite recent academic interest in the role of alternative food initiatives in countering a narrow view of democracy based on market-based purchasing power, little attention has been paid to a specific democratizing feature that allows for collective expression beyond consumption, that of collective agency. This article argues that it is precisely by focusing on collective agency as the driving force for food systems’ change that we can recognize the diverse contributions of social innovations to the democratization of food systems. By engaging with the reasonings of consumer sovereignty proponents, building on academic literature on the concept of collective agency, and drawing from empirical work with over a hundred local social innovations of the global North, this article proposes an agency typology that allows for parsing out its different dimensions, highlighting social innovations’ key role as agency enablers and agents of change in the democratization of food systems.

Keywords:  alternative food systems; collective agency; food democracy; social innovations


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© Paula Fernandez-Wulff. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (, which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.