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School of Social and Political Science: Research


Cosmopolitan risk community in a bowl: The search for ‘good food’ in China

Cosmopolitan risk community in a bowl: The search for ‘good food’ in China
Speaker: Dr Joy Y. Zhang # University of Kent
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Date and Time
14th Feb 2019 15:30 - 14th Feb 2019 17:00
Seminar Room 2, Chrystal Macmillan Building, 15a George Square, EH8 9L

With the world’s largest population to feed, modernising the food system has always been a paramount socio-political concern in China. Yet my recent fieldwork in 3 Chinese cities suggests that there are two conflicting views on what a ‘modern’ food system should look like. For the government, modernisation implies a rational calculation of scale and a mirroring of global trends. Yet the irony is that the more secure Chinese domestic food production is, the less safe its food has become. With an increasing number of food scandals, an alternative interpretation of modernity promoted by grassroots NGOs has been gaining ground. For this camp, good food production is then established through a ‘rhizomic’ spread of new practices, which are inspired by world possibilities but are deeply rooted in the local context. 

Based on 14 interviews and five focus groups, this talk investigates the ongoing social negotiation of ‘good food’ in China. Through examining how individuals understand both ‘traditional’ and ‘new’ risks associated with contemporary food consumption, this talk demonstrates that risks are not seen as a ‘thing’, but are translated into ‘causal relations’. Subsequently, for Chinese stakeholders, the best way to safeguard food risks is to enact more visible and functioning interdependent relations in the food system. This in turn has given rise to new forms of communities which cut across conventional geographic, socio-economic and political boundaries. Drawing on the ‘varieties of modernity’ thesis (Beck and Grande) and prosumption theory (Ritzer), I argue that the Movement’s impact on China’s agri-economy lies not so much in the volume and scope of its production and distribution, but in its performative re-conditioning of the state’s and society’s roles in the definition and prosumption of ‘good food’.​

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