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Twenty years after the “Great Transformation”: Renewing institutionalist approaches to agriculture and agrofood systems

Co-ordinators: Gilles Allaire, Pierre Labarthe, Martino Nieddu

In 1995, a collective work edited by Gilles Allaire and Robert Boyer addressed the “great transformation of agriculture” through studies based on Régulationist and convention theory approaches. In a larger context of theoretical renewal, this publication was intended to encourage the analysis of institutions, organisations and conventions. Notwithstanding the appearance of two trends – on the one hand, the weakness of intensification pathways and, on the other, the construction of market mechanisms and differentiation strategies at different levels, it remained difficult to define one or several emerging model(s).

Twenty years on, what can be said? What are today’s trends and what new light is to be shed on the place of agriculture and food within the dynamics of capitalism? These are the basic questions motivating this call for submissions. The resulting thematic issue is intended to contribute to renewing a Régulationist research programme on the transformation of the operating systems and the crises of today’s agriculture through a variety of theoretical and methodological approaches. It is thus open to institutionalist analyses coming from different disciplines and currents, including perspectives which were not well represented in the 1995 publication, such as international political economy and ecological economics. As was the case in the past, the contemporary analysis of agriculture’s social forms must encompass different dimensions beyond the political arena and media spotlights: the material, cognitive and social bases of the activities; the technical and financial mechanisms; the link with agribusiness; the markets, which have been internationalised; and public policies, which have been reformed, often by dismantling regulation mechanisms ensuring the distribution of production across the territories. Since the decade of the 1990s, which saw the beginning of a process of liberal reform with the Common Agricultural Policy (1992) and the introduction of the Single Market (1997), the end of the Uruguay Round and the creation of the World Trade Organisation (1994) and the Rio Convention on biodiversity (1992), the international context has undergone major changes in relation to the 1960s (marked by national control of agricultural policies, neocolonialism and the Cold War). Here we may cite the revived importance of agriculture in the economies of emerging countries, the development of non-food uses of plants, financialisation of risk coverage and financial crises, the spread of public-private partnerships in research and innovation-support policies, the “food” crisis of 2008 and the downturn of agricultural prices, urban concentration (competition over land property, urban agriculture, etc.), transformations of the forms of production, migrations, social movements around food and nature, against land grabbing, and so on.

Submissions are expected to provide a critical appraisal of dominant processes from the past (i.e., over the long period or the last two or three decades) in order to deconstruct the factors at work in the reproduction, exhaustion or radicalisation of previous trends. At the same time, articles should propose an analysis of the original features of today’s agriculture, notably with regards to the internationalisation of value chains, financialisation, food systems and models, the ecological dimension and public policy instruments within the political space of agriculture.

Other welcome approaches include reconsiderations of the industrialisation of agriculture and the question of family farming from a comparative, international standpoint within the context of long-term global history; analyses of the structural crises of this development model, as well as research on new engines of industrialisation and neo-productivism. The issue is also open to investigations of public discourse and policies and public or private standardisation systems related to “sustainable development” or multi-functionnal farming, as well as the possibilities associated with bioeconomics (agrofuel, “green” chemistry, etc.).

The idea of globalisation is deceptively simple and merits further investigation. For most of the planet’s inhabitants, the main problems of everyday life are related to local or national phenomena and/or actors. At the same time, however, they are not isolated from migration flows, financial flows and information flows. This “in-between” situation allows us to examine “globalization” concerning, for example, the internationalisation of agrofood systems and agricultural economies (the 2008 crisis, deregulation, global stakes, large-scale land acquisitions, etc.); relationships between financialisation and local markets; the spread of certification norms, standards and procedures; the new institutions regulating the production and dissemination of knowledge; and food consumption practices and quality conventions.

If the objective of an “ecological and energy transition” – within which agriculture plays a key role – has become politically correct, there is no agreement amongst its numerous defenders as to the paths to be given priority and the deeper meaning of this “transition”. The term lends itself to all manner of uses and reflects a variety of social transformations in different economic and geopolitical contexts. As an analytical concept, it has come to be used mainly in a normative way. But here too, several competing programmes may be discerned. When employed to designate political goals, it tends to reduce the complexity of the phenomena to technical issues, whilst the social issues, if they are present in the debate, are rarely integrated explicitly into the concept of “transitions”. It is therefore necessary to undertake a critical analysis in light of the complexity of the “transitions” which concern the modes of production, the markets and the geopolitics of the agrofood systems or non-food biomass production.

Submission deadline: 30 September 2015

Articles should not exceed 10,000 words (including spaces) and must follow the Revue de la Régulation instructions to authors presented here. Texts should be sent by email to, with “call for papers” specified in the subject heading. All articles will be reviewed anonymously according to the journal’s standard procedure.

Before proposing an article, it is recommended to contact the issue co-ordinators directly.

Gilles Allaire:
Pierre Labarthe:
Martino Nieddu:

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