Some thoughts about social cartographies of agri-food models

Our project aims to compare the convergences and divergences of agri-food systems by following kernels of maize through the system they are related and learn from the networks of relations embedded in and enabled throughout those journeys.

This locates us in the realm of creating cartographies; the art and science of map-making. Maps are symbolic representations of places, objects, ideas, themes or relations. They can be either real or imagined and despite of the fact that most famous examples of maps are geographical, maps can be used to represent different type of phenomena (such as relations, ideas or emotions).

Social cartography is related to mapping different styles of thinking and understandings about how the world works and some even consider the map-making process as a radical political practice. Often, social cartography is also concerned with the locations, relations and movement of ideas, persons or social groups in social space. Maps are great for capturing complexity due to their non-linear story telling.

But what does it mean to map agri-food models? What are the possibilities of doing that? How are we facing the gargantuan task of mapping and comparing three different agri-food models in two different socio-cultural contexts? We are just starting the fieldwork and we know one of our strengths is our focus on the kernel of maize. We are using the journey of three kernels of maize through the food chain to elicit the network of relations that constrain and emanate from it. We are aware that our research task will require the creation of spatial order, the selection of symbols, the decisions of what is placed in the centre and what in the periphery and the establishing of boundaries.

We are also aware that by doing this task worthy of Sherlock Holmes we’ll be identifying and re-constructing the different narratives that order the experience of the characters met during these voyages through time. Indeed, taking into account the inseparability of space and time, maps tend to emphasise spaciality, which actually is a very relevant dimension of the dominant and globalised food system.

In the process of map-making epistemological-related questions quickly slam on your face. Maps not only represent part of a reality out-there, but they also contain and display the ways for which the researchers see and analyse that concrete reality. It’s a great visible example of co-construction of reality. Indeed, nothing can be said from nowhere, but perhaps these and other epistemological thoughts are worth a post of its own.