Re-assembling sustainable food cities: An exploration of translocal governance and its multiple agencies

Blog by Dr. Ana Moragues-Faus

25 Apr 2018, 2:36 p.m.
Dr. Ana Moragues-Faus



Food policy has traditionally been relegated to national governments and agricultural departments. However, in the last decade cities have become the beacons of food policy innovation, creating cross-sectoral spaces of deliberation and integrating a range of actors in the governance of the urban food system. From food policy councils to sustainable public procurement programmes, cities are re-asserting their role in transforming the food system in order to deliver sustainable and nutritious food for all. There are now hundreds of cities reimagining and enacting innovative food policies across the globe, which is leading to important cross-overs of learning in other cities. This is demonstrated by the creation of translocal food networks such as the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact that aim to engender sustainable transformations in the global food system. As yet, however, no empirical attention has been devoted to this translocal dimension of urban food governance. How do localised contestations expand from place to place? Do translocal initiatives have the capacity to reconfigure the food governance context? If so, how, and with what potential wider implications for the urban foodscape?

To begin to answer these questions and enhance understanding of the transformative potential of translocalism in the food system, we focus on the Sustainable Food Cities Network (SFCN) in the UK, one of the earliest initiatives emerged to connect cities that are developing food strategies and associated partnerships to govern them. The  gathers more than 50 cities across the UK and provides a platform for peer-to-peer support and exchange of good practice. This involves delivering tailored support, hands-on advice, training material and resources, running national and local campaigns to drive change, organising events and webinars, providing funds to support local activities and designing an awards framework. The SFCN constitutes a step forward in scaling up and out urban food strategies in a national context, representing a unique experience in the world of urban food policy.

In order to understand how translocal alliances develop distinct capacities to act, the paper integrates key theoretical contributions from governance networks, social movements and translocal assemblages. Through their shared focus on the diversity of actors’ interactions and the role of different multi-scalar governance configurations in addressing social-ecological challenges, these literatures can provide the basis for a new conceptual and analytical framework that captures the potential of different types of articulations (governance networks), the politics of networking at play (social movements) and the temporality and spatiality of socio-material practices (assemblages) that shape governance dynamics. The integration of these bodies of work results in a new translocal governance framework that focuses on the creation and re-creation of distinct translocal agencies and therefore contributes to emerging debates about the nature, functioning and governance potential of translocal initiatives.

The application of this framework to the analysis of the origins and evolution of the SFCN highlights the centrality of agency and the contingency of place as key factors that influence the development and effectiveness of translocal governance. Moving away from a national and compartmentalized approach to food policy, the SFCN is actively working to forge an integrated, cross-sectoral and participative governance model. Cross-scalar, collective and distributive agencies are vital in this process, as they enable the network to co-produce and connect discourses, practices and knowledges that are grounded in specific urban foodscapes across the UK. We show in the analysis how the SFCN has developed a set of activities and tools to assemble local experiences by fostering knowledge sharing and co-production (e.g., events, case studies’ websites), creating common imaginaries (e.g., criteria to join the network, awards) and performing collective action (e.g., national campaigns). These tools are multi-scalar boundary objects that facilitate distributed agency in spatial and temporal terms and, therefore, support changes in the local and national food governance contexts. 

A key insight emerging from this research concerns the importance of the wider context in which networks operate – particularly the role of broader power dynamics (i.e., capital accumulation and large-scale configurations of uneven spatial development) in constraining the transformative potential of translocal governance initiatives. Examples range from the austerity policies, which are directly challenging the involvement of the public sector in these initiatives, to relevant global issues such as the expansion of precarious labour markets and climate change, which are weakly wired into the SFCN’s narrative and actions. Clearly, there is a need to include more effectively in governance network and assemblage thinking (as well as in the SFCN work) the socio-spatial ‘context of contexts’ (Brenner et al., 2011) in which urban foodscapes are situated. This implies, among other things, progressing research on the potential of translocal initiatives to develop forms of power that contest, break or reassemble the socio-cultural, ecological and economic relations that are actively preventing the emergence of more enabling food governance contexts. A first step could be an exploration of the linkages between the multiple translocal agencies identified in this paper and the changing material (food) conditions in urban spaces. At a time of increasing food insecurities and rapid urbanization, both food and urban studies would benefit from giving more prominence to ‘agency’ and ‘materiality’ as key analytical prisms to enhance theoretical and practical understandings of the multi-scalar interconnections between food system and city-based transformations.  

This papers builds on my previous work with individual cities such as Bristol (UK) and Malmo (Sweden) (Moragues-Faus and Morgan, 2015), as well as participatory action research with municipal governments and social movements across Europe (Moragues-Faus, 2016; Moragues-Faus et al., 2013). Part of the research leading to these results has received funding from the European Union's 7th Framework Programme, theme KBBE.2013.2.5-01 TRANSMANGO Assessment of the impact of global drivers of change on Europe's food security Grant agreement no: 613532. I also acknowledges the funding of the European Commission and the Welsh Government that currently supports her Ser Cymru fellowship.

For more information on my work visit



Brenner, N., Madden, D.J., Wachsmuth, D., 2011. Assemblage urbanism and the challenges of critical urban theory. City 15, 225–240.

Moragues-Faus, A., 2016. Los consejos alimentarios: Una herramienta muncipalista para la transformación del sistema alimentario.

Moragues-Faus, A., Morgan, K., 2015. Reframing the foodscape: the emergent world of urban food policy. Environ. Plan. A 47, 1558–1573.

Moragues-Faus, A., Morgan, K., Moschitz, H., Neimane, I., Nilsson, H., Pinto, M., Rohracher, H., Ruiz, R., Thuswald, M., Tisenkopfs, T., Halliday, J., 2013. Urban Food Strategies: the rough guide to sustainable food systems, Document developed in the framework of the FP7 project FOODLINKS (GA No. 265287).



Read the paper on Urban Studies - Online First here.



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