Deepening Democracy for the Governance toward Just Transitions in Agri-Food Systems

Julia Tschersich, Kristiaan P.W. Kok

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstractAcademic


Deep transformations towards sustainable, healthy and just agri-food systems are needed in order to tackle some of the world’s most pressing challenges. The field of transition studies offers tools and guidance for both understanding and governing long-term processes of structural systemic change. Yet achieving a fundamental transformation in complex agri-food systems is challenging and requires rethinking governance efforts in order to confront fundamental inequalities and re-direct vested power relations that stabilize status-quo configurations.

This paper contributes to the debate on how transition governance efforts could be democratized in order to facilitate just transitions in agri-food systems. Our main contributions are a further clarification of how democratization of transition governance might pave the way for enacting just transitions in agri-food systems, and an elaboration on several key challenges democratization brings along in institutionalizing transition governance efforts.

We first elaborate on a multidimensional understanding of justice. Just transitions comprise the four interrelated dimensions of (1) distributive justice; (2) procedural justice; (3) recognition justice; and (4) restorative justice. While democratization of transition governance is most strongly related to issues of procedural justice, we contend that democratizing the governance of agri-food transition is inherently grounded and related to other (outcome-oriented) justice dimensions. In our analysis we explicate this take, by arguing that democratizing the governance of agri-food transitions requires three paradigm shifts. These entail the move (1) from expert toward pluralist understandings of knowledge; (2) from economic materialism toward post-growth strategies; and (3) from anthropocentrism toward reconnecting human-nature relationships. For each of these strategies, we illustrate their implications for transition governance with different dimensions of justice in agri-food systems.

Finally, we argue that this brings along six different challenges, or balancing acts, in institutionalizing transition governance. These refer to (1) balancing (trade-offs between) multiple dimensions of justice; (2) combining democratization efforts with urgencies implied by transition ambitions; (3) moving beyond the bottom-up and top-down dichotomy in setting governance directionalities; (4) navigating the translocal scales involved in bringing about just transitions, in particular between local interventions and global dynamics of injustice; (5) finding creative ways to combine realist and idealist interpretations of just transition governance; and finally, (6) rethinking the role of scientists and scientific systems in how they can best contribute to just transitions. Balancing these tensions for a deepened understanding of democracy in agri-food transitions requires thoroughly rethinking transition studies’ normative and democratic ambitions.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2022
Event2022 Toronto Conference on Earth System Governance: Governing accelerated transitions: justice, creativity, and power in a transforming world - Toronto, Canada
Duration: 20 Oct 202224 Oct 2022


Conference2022 Toronto Conference on Earth System Governance


Dive into the research topics of 'Deepening Democracy for the Governance toward Just Transitions in Agri-Food Systems'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this