The Peasant Activism Project

The “Peasant Activism Project”, part of an international research network, organizes events, conferences and documentary screenings and carries out research related to neo-rural activism and the globalization of the countryside. Its current work stems out of a major ethnographic study of activism for food sovereignty in Italy financed by the Economic and Social Science Research Council (ESRC), UK, hosted by Queen’s University Belfast  between 2016 and 2018 (“The Right to Certify? Mobilizing for the Self-Certification of Food”, Project code ES/M011291/1). In events such as the “Political Imagination Laboratory” and a number of other ongoing research projects, we bring together scholars who investigate innovative political activism on rural-urban relations.

The globalization of the food system and neo-rural activism

Small-scale farmers and neo-rural activists are particularly vulnerable in front of an increasingly globalised food system. Many of those who pursue sustainable lifestyles and produce quality food often find themselves in difficulties with tightening regulations regarding food safety and the technocratic demands in relation to the certification of standards, considered by many as favoring large industrial productions.

“The right to certify”: Towards innovations

The core innovation of our study derives from the attempt to shed light on how food sovereignty activism in Italy reappriates the “right to certify” food quality and safety. This will allow a renewed ‘political understanding’ of food activism, renewing the anthropology of food in terms of sovereignty and citizenship, rather than in relation to questions of identity and culture.

"Investigating the political imagination of food sovereignty activism"


CALL FOR PAPERS AND VISUAL PROJECTS: Fourth Political Imagination Laboratory

“Utopias of Sustainability – The Sustainability of Utopias”

University of Perugia, 30 September – 01 October 2022


What visions animate contemporary activism? How to uncover those utopian aspirations, strategic and/or ideological horizons that too often pass implicitly, silently or invisibly? Our “Political Imagination Laboratory” aims to interrogate the shifting political imagination of contemporary social movements and experimental forms of activism. We invite social scientists, filmmakers and activists to submit papers or visual projects (completed documentaries or works in progress). Proposed presentations should engage with ethnography and/or fieldwork related to different forms of social movement research that address the imagination of contemporary activism around the world.

The fourth Political Imagination Laboratory core theme will be “Utopias of Sustainability – The Sustainability of Utopias”. As utopias of a better world appear increasingly as ephemeral, precarious and fragile, concepts related to sustainability, the environment and rurality seem at the forefront of contemporary impulses for social change. Examples include experiments with self-production, new forms of horizontal cooperation, new understandings of rural-urban and nature-culture relations, as well as activism against mega-projects around the world.

While social scientists around the world have appreciated these forms of activism as prefigurative for broader social change, others underline how similar utopian impulses can easily be appropriated by neoliberal logics, e.g., propagated by consulting as management goal and cited by companies as advertising slogan. In particular, some voices interrogate the degree to which sustainability fits into an ethos of post-material renunciation. We ask: Which more or less visible utopian impulses haunt contemporary forms of activism? How are, for example, concepts like sustainability, rurality and nature employed by different actors? To which ideologies and/or utopias are these connected? In which context is and is not sustainability, rurality or ecology invoked? How can discourses and practices of sustainability, rurality, ecology and similar concepts be made visible by ethnographers?

Practical Information

We invite both papers and visual projects (completed documentaries or projects in progress).

PAPER PRESENTATIONS: Please submit your abstract (max. 300 words) for a paper of about 20 minutes. VISUAL PROJECTS: Please submit your audio-visual project (completed documentaries or works in progress) with a short description (max. 300 words). In order to stimulate debate, videos of ca. 30 minutes will be preferred; for longer completed documentaries, a short version accompanied by a presentation would be more adequate. Please upload your video to a cloud drive with the link. The abstract should also include your academic affiliation and role.

Please send your contribution to: info(at)peasantproject.org.

The ”Lab” will alternate paper presentations with film screenings, key-note lectures and in-depth discussion workshops, emphasizing horizontal discussions and personal interactions. The event is planned as an in-person meeting, but we will closely monitor the situation. If your presentation is accepted, we will offer you two nights of accommodation free-of-charge and some meals will also be covered. However, we cannot reimburse travel expenses. Further information on past editions can be found here:  https://www.peasantproject.org/political-imagination-lab

Notification of accepted presentations: 30th July 2

Research Seminar: ‘The Promises of Utopia: A Political Ethnography of Food Sovereignty Activism in Italy’

In the seminar “The Promises of Utopia: A Political Ethnography of Food Sovereignty Activism in Italy” (Wednesday 28/04/2021, 12.15),  Alexander Koensler will discuss some of the Peasant Activism Project’s research. The seminar is organised by the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Ben Gurion University of the Negev. For more information and online access please follow the link.

New: Forum on new climate change activism

In the journal “Social Anthropology”, a forum on new climate change activism has been published, including a contribution based on our research. For more information and to access the contributions, please follow the link.

New article: ‘Prefigurative Politics in Practice. Concrete Utopias in Italy’s Food Sovereignty Activism’

We are pleased to announce the publication of the article “Prefigurative Politics in Practice. Concrete Utopias in Italy’s Food Sovereignty Activism” in Mobilization (25,1), a major interdisciplinary journal of social movement studies. Based on long-term ethnographic research with food sovereignty networks in Italy, the article investigates how prefigurative politics work in practice. More information can be found here.



What Can and Can’t Be Said: Fieldwork as Witnessing?

06-07 December 2019, University of Perugia, Italy

We are pleased to announce the second edition of our Political Imagination Laboratory. The second edition of the Political Imagination Laboratory brings together anthropologists, social scientists, filmmakers and activists from around the world and will alternate paper presentations with film screenings, roundtable discussions, and work-in-progress visual expositions.
The completed program can be accessed here.

First impressions from our work

Initially hosted by

School of History, Anthropology, Philosophy and Politics (HAPP) , Queen’s University Belfast

Initially financed by
Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), UK

In collaboration with
Dipartimento di Filosofia, Scienze Sociali, Umane e della Formazione, Università degli Studi di Perugia

International research network “Anthropology and Social Movements”, European Association of Social Anthropology (EASA)

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The “Peasant Activism Project” is an international research network, organizing events, conferences and documentary screenings. The network derives out of a research project financed between February 2016 and March 2018 by the Economic and Social Science Research Council (Esrc) under the initial title ‘The Right to Certify? Mobilizing for the Self-Certification of Food’ (Project code ES/M011291/1), and has recieved a follow-up research grants in 2018 and network grants in 2019.