There’s certainly a lot of hurting out there: navigating the trolley of progress down the supermarket aisle
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For the past decade, supermarket chains have been positioned as the pre-eminent actor in global and national food systems. Some agri-food scholars argue that their ever-expanding transnational supply chains have established an era of stable production-consumption relations (or Food Regime), while others point to the conflicts they are encountering with governments, social movements and ‘alternative’ consumers. However, remarkably little attention has been paid to their relationship with communities and to community system sustainability. Based on fieldwork conducted in the Goulburn Valley, Australia, we argue that supermarket operations are contributing to community tensions through contestation over valued symbols and narratives about what desirable ‘progress’ looks like. We identified three interrelated points of tension being intensified by supermarket chains: whether progress is encapsulated by being an agricultural production or a modern consumption centre; whether progress should be based on a model of corporate capital or the local small business; and to what extent modern citizens can and should support community shopping instead of convenience shopping. For long-time residents, supermarkets are paradoxical actors appealing to, as well as, challenging the narrative of a community whose economic strength was based on the surrounding natural environment and local people’s endeavours. The concepts of solastalgia and structural nostalgia are relevant, with the former referring to the place-based distress experienced by residents whose local area is changing profoundly and the latter describing a process amplifying that distress. Through exploring the political paradoxes of community solastalgia, we raise new questions about supermarket authority within contemporary Food Regimes.
KeywordsAustralian supermarkets Rural communities Solastalgia Structural nostalgia Food Regimes
This study was part-funded by the Australian Research Council (Project No. DP 0773092) ‘From Seedling to Supermarket: The Social and Environmental Implications for Australia of the Restructuring of Agri-food Supply Chains’. The authors are also grateful to discussions with Michael Herzfeld, Harvard University, regarding the concept of structural nostalgia.
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