Call for Papers: Rural History 2017 Panel - The Resilience and Decline of Urban Agriculture in European History

RHN 78/2016 | Call

Organisers: Tim Soens (University of Antwerp) and Erich Landsteiner (University of Vienna)

11-14 September 2017, Leuven, Belgium

Deadline for submissions: 8 October 2016

Panel at the Rural History 2017 Conference:
The Resilience and Decline of Urban Agriculture in European History

At the beginning of the 21st century, urban or community agriculture is rapidly gaining importance. All over the worlds urban dwellers are gathering to cultivate crops and vegetables or raise some poultry or pigs, often on a cooperative basis and on tiny plots of ‘marginal’ land. In a urban world characterized by globalizing food markets, social polarization, but also increasing food insecurity, citizens practice urban agriculture in a combined effort to diversify their food supplies, shorten the food chain and strengthen community life. Urban Agriculture is a highly diversified and multi-layered phenomenon, and its roots are both very old and very recent. Throughout European history it has appeared in different shapes and disguises. In some periods of Europe, Urban Agriculture seemed to decline at an early stage, whereas in others urban economies and societies remained firmly based on more or less specialized and commercialized agrarian production until the recent past.

In order to understand the organization, the resilience and failure of urban agriculture in different contexts, this research line aims to develop a comparative and long-term approach, with a particular focus on the actors involved in urban agriculture, their income strategies and the social and economic configurations in which they operate. In order to explain the long-term continuity of urban agriculture in some contexts and its rapid demise in other, the following variables might be questioned:

  • Access to land: most forms of agriculture are land-based, and variations in the access to land (density of settlement, prices and social distribution of land) might highly affect the involvement of urban households in urban or peri-urban agricultural production.
  • Household income formation: many forms of urban agriculture are development as bye-employment, and hence are subject to the availability of labour in the household economy. Developments on the labour market, including, the rise of – male and female – wage labour, might have a profound impact on Urban Agriculture.
  • Commercialisation of agriculture: urban agriculture might decline as food markets became more integrated and more specialized, and the urban access to food became primarily organized through the market. On the other hand some forms of urban agriculture might expand in parallel to agricultural commercialization, either as urban specialisations or as reaction to mitigate the uncertainties of the food market.
  • Urban agrarian specialization: Growing and processing agrarian primary goods (e.g. grapes for wine, grain for beer, woad for textile colouring, flax for linen) constituted the economic base of many small and, in some cases, even large townships. These activities gave rise to specific town-country relationships and provided commodities for regional and supra-regional exchange and trade. In peripheral regions the continued reliance of urban economies on the production and provisioning of agrarian commodities supplied to core regions might be part of more general patterns of unequal development.
  • Institutional framework:  urban and supra-urban authorities might conceive policies which directly affect the potential for urban agriculture. But also more general institutions, for instance with regard to the use of common land, or the organization of taxation in the city
  • Crisis: finally, the success or decline of urban agriculture might be related to more general political and economic conditions, for instance inducing urban households to increase food production in times of war and uncertainty, as normal food chains were disrupted.

We welcome papers on every European region, from the Middle Ages to the 20th century (though papers on other regions and periods might be considered as well). Case-studies on a single town might be considered, but comparative studies are preferred.

Please send an abstract (max. 250 words) and a short CV to and before October 8 2016.