Panel Paper: The Agri-Food System Policy Research Domain

Friday, November 8, 2013 : 9:45 AM
3017 Monroe (Washington Marriott)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Jill K. Clark and Kristine Dugan, Ohio State University
Food policy has traditionally been considered a national domain, and has dealt with issues such as public health, nutrition, anti-hunger, food safety, food labeling, international trade and food aid.  In the past several years, however, the energy around food policy research and practice has been in alternative arenas, such as community food security and sustainable agriculture, and at alternative scales, mostly local and state.  Further, food has become part of the public discourse, whether it is a discussion of food deserts, farmers’ markets, food hubs, farm-to-school initiatives or the like. 

With these shifts and new found energy is recognition that to address such pervasive and complex issues as food security and farmer livelihoods, a multi-disciplinary approach is needed.  Yet much of food policy work continues to be conducted in the academic silos.  Lang et al (2009) posit that our policy responses to our food system ills have been “patchy, tentative and inadequately integrated (1).”  The question I seek to explore is the extent to which scholarly conversations (academic publishing) reflect segmented conversations or whether there is a vibrant multi-disciplinary conversation underway. 

In the literature, one can find lists of food policy disciplinary traditions that fall in to the broader food policy “domain,” or the whole of food policy research. One example of such a list includes agricultural science, anthropology, biology and biochemistry, economics, environmental science, epidemiology, geography, history, home economics, journalism, nutrition, political science, philosophy, psychology, public health and sociology (Lang et al, 2009).  Allen (2004) has written about the tension between disciplinary conceptualizations of the American food system. But to date, we know of no analysis that documents the extent to which research among disciplines within the food policy domain are interrelated. 

One approach to understanding analyzing the domain “landscape” is through knowledge network analysis and domain visualization.  This approach allows me to identify what disciplines are publishing food policy research, where they are publishing it, and, most importantly, to what extent these disciplines’ research is interrelated.  Two examples of investigations of this sort of question in other knowledge domains include analysis of sustainability science (Kajikawa et al 2007) and scholarly network analysis of human dimensions of global environmental change (Janssen et al 2006).  This research adapts these sorts of approaches to food policy.