Agriculture and Human Values

, Volume 31, Issue 1, pp 119–130 | Cite as

Food sovereignty: the debate, the deadlock, and a suggested detour

  • Otto HospesEmail author


Whereas hundreds of social movements and NGOs all over the world have embraced the concept of food sovereignty, not many public authorities at the national and international level have adopted the food sovereignty paradigm as a normative basis for alternative agriculture and food policy. A common explanation of the limited role of food sovereignty in food and agriculture policy is that existing power structures are biased towards maintaining the corporatist food regime and neo-liberal thinking about food security. This article sets out to provide an alternative explanation for this limited role by critically reflecting on the debate about food sovereignty itself. The main argument is that this debate is characterized by deadlock. Two mechanisms underlying the deadlock are analyzed: confusion about the concept of sovereignty and the failure of the epistemic community to debate how to reconcile conflicting values, discourses, and institutions regarding food. To overcome this deadlock and organize meaningful debate with public authorities, it is proposed that the food sovereignty movement uses insights from legal pluralism and debates on governance and adopts the ending of “food violence” as a new objective and common frame.


Food sovereignty Sovereignty Food values Food violence Food governance Reconciling conflicting values on food 



The author is grateful for the inspiring debates on food law, food values and food sovereignty with Professor Francois Collart Dutilleul, head of the LASCAUX programme at Nantes University. The author also wishes to thank the LASCAUX programme and Nantes University for funding and facilitating his stay as a visiting professor at Nantes University in March and June 2011. The author is also grateful for advice of Joy Burrough on the English.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Social SciencesWageningen UniversityWageningenThe Netherlands

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