Degrowth and agri-food systems: a research agenda for the critical social sciences

Leonie Guerrero Lara*, Laura van Oers, Jacob Smessaert, Julia Spanier, Guilherme Raj, Giuseppe Feola

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Degrowth has become a recognised paradigm for identifying and critiquing systemic unsustainability rooted in the capitalist, growth-compelled economy. Increasingly, degrowth is discussed in relation to specific economic sectors such as the agri-food system. This paper builds on the foundational work of Gerber (2020) and Nelson and Edwards (2021). While both publications take a rather specific analytical or disciplinary focus—the former specifically connects critical agrarian studies and degrowth, the latter explores the contributions of the recent volume ‘Food for degrowth’—this paper takes stock of the emerging body of literature on degrowth and agri-food systems more broadly. It proposes research avenues that deepen, expand and diversify degrowth research on agri-food systems in four areas: (i) degrowth conceptualisations; (ii) theorisation of transformations towards sustainability; (iii) the political economy of degrowth agri-food systems; and (iv) rurality and degrowth. Together, these avenues devote due attention to a variety of agents (ranging from translocal networks to non-humans), spaces (e.g. the rural), theories (e.g. sustainability transitions and transformations towards sustainability) and policies (of the agricultural sector and beyond) that thus far have received limited attention within the degrowth literature. The critical social science perspective on degrowth agri-food systems, which is advanced in this paper, illuminates that the present unsustainability and injustice of hegemonic agri-food systems are not merely a problem of that sector alone, but rather are ingrained in the social imaginaries of how economies and societies should work as well as in the political–economic structures that uphold and reproduce these imaginaries.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1579-1594
Number of pages16
JournalSustainability Science
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2023


  • Agriculture
  • Capitalism
  • Post-growth
  • Sustainability
  • Transformations


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