Our project aims to compare the convergences and divergences of agri-food systems. It proposes to do this by following kernels of maize through different systems of production (e.g. organic, conventional and GM) and to map 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 the fact that most famous examples of maps are geographical, maps can also be used to represent different types of phenomena (such as relations, ideas or emotions).
Social cartography is related to mapping different styles of thinking and understandings of how the world works. Often, social cartography is also concerned with the locations, relations and movement of ideas, persons or groups in social space. Maps are great for capturing complexity due to their non-linear story telling. Some even consider the map-making process as a radical political practice.
But what does it mean to map agri-food systems in practice? How can we do that? What possibilities do we choose? How do we face the gargantuan task of mapping and comparing three different agri-food systems in two different socio-cultural contexts? We are just starting the fieldwork and we know one of our strengths is our grounding focus on kernels of maize. We are using the journey of three different types of kernels of maize through the food web 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 establishment 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 questions quickly arise. Maps not only represent part of a reality out-there, but they also contain and display the ways for researchers to see and analyse that concrete reality. It’s a great visible example of the co-construction of reality. Indeed, nothing can be said from nowhere, but these and other epistemological thoughts are worthy of another post.