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Reflective Action in the Academy: Exploring Praxis in Critical Geography using a “Food Movement” Case Study Sarah E L Wakefield Food and Health Research Interest Group, Centre for Urban Health Initiatives/Department of Geography and Program in Planning, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada; [email protected] Abstract: One of the key components of critical geography is praxis—defined here as the melding of theory/reflection and practice/action as part of a conscious struggle to transform the world. Put simply, praxis is giving life to ideas about the way the world is—and could be—by acting on one’s convictions in daily (work and home) life. Praxis can thus take many forms, and can occur both within and outside the academy. This paper examines how research and practice can be co-constituted by examining the “food movement” (ie the mobilization of disparate social actors in resistance to various aspects of the dominant corporate–industrial food system) in Canada as a case study. Through this lens, different forms of praxis are interrogated, not to identify a uniform “best praxis”, but rather to highlight the benefits and drawbacks of particular approaches in this one specific context. In so doing, the paper explores how critical geographers might contribute, through praxis, to the recognition and restructuring of social relations as part of the broader emancipatory project that is central to critical theory. Introduction This paper explores ways of linking critical theory to practice in ge- ography, using the “food movement” in Canada as a case study. Put simply, praxis is giving life to ideas about the way the world is—and could be—by acting on one’s (theoretically informed) convictions in daily life. As Fuller and Kitchin note, critical geography 1 seeks to “ex- pose the socio-spatial processes that (re)produce inequalities between people and places”, and therefore critical praxis, while a form of applied geography, differs from what is commonly held to be applied geography (as typified by the journal of that name) because of its ideological intent; its challenge rather than support of the status quo. (Fuller and Kitchin 2004:5) I attempt to add to this conceptualization of praxis through an ex- ploration of my own experiences in the “food movement”, an alliance of disparate social actors mobilizing in resistance to various aspects of the dominant corporate–industrial food system. To contextualize these

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    Reflective Action in the Academy:Exploring Praxis in Critical

    Geography using a Food MovementCase Study

    Sarah E L WakefieldFood and Health Research Interest Group, Centre for Urban Health

    Initiatives/Department of Geography and Program in Planning,University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada;

    [email protected]

    Abstract: One of the key components of critical geography is praxisdefined here as themelding of theory/reflection and practice/action as part of a conscious struggle to transform theworld. Put simply, praxis is giving life to ideas about the way the world isand could bebyacting on ones convictions in daily (work and home) life. Praxis can thus take many forms, andcan occur both within and outside the academy. This paper examines how research and practice

    can be co-constituted by examining the food movement (ie the mobilization of disparatesocial actors in resistance to various aspects of the dominant corporateindustrial food system)in Canada as a case study. Through this lens, different forms of praxis are interrogated, not toidentify a uniform best praxis, but rather to highlight the benefits and drawbacks of particularapproaches in this one specific context. In so doing, the paper explores how critical geographersmight contribute, through praxis, to the recognition and restructuring of social relations as partof the broader emancipatory project that is central to critical theory.

    IntroductionThis paper explores ways of linking critical theory to practice in ge-

    ography, using the food movement in Canada as a case study. Putsimply, praxis is giving life to ideas about the way the world isandcould beby acting on ones (theoretically informed) convictions indaily life. As Fuller and Kitchin note, critical geography 1 seeks to ex-pose the socio-spatial processes that (re)produce inequalities betweenpeople and places, and therefore critical praxis,

    while a form of applied geography, differs from what is commonlyheld to be applied geography (as typified by the journal of that name)

    because of its ideological intent; its challenge rather than support of the status quo. (Fuller and Kitchin 2004:5)

    I attempt to add to this conceptualization of praxis through an ex-ploration of my own experiences in the food movement, an allianceof disparate social actors mobilizing in resistance to various aspects of the dominant corporateindustrial food system. To contextualize theseC 2007 The AuthorJournal compilation C 2007 Editorial Board of Antipode .

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    experiences, I draw on a range of recent writings, with special atten-tion to a recent collection of papers edited by Duncan Fuller and RobKitchin (2004). I begin by elaborating the broad range of activities thatcould constitute an academics critical praxis. Then, I highlight key ar-

    eas of tension that can develop from, and also serve to shape, academicpraxis. These areas of tension, and the negotiations involved in reconcil-ing them, are used as a mechanism to think through the value of variousforms of academic praxis. In so doing, I hope to inform a new way of recognizing and valuing critical praxis, while at the same time re-specting the situated nature of those attempting it, and remaining opento the full range of activities involved in the bold and joyful pursuitof a better world. This paper contributes to existing work by identify-ing the key elements that define critical praxis. It goes beyond exist-ing frameworks in critical geography, which tend to privilege particulartypes of praxis a priori, to identify the particular characteristics of praxisthat allow critical geographers to act most effectively to facilitate socialchange.

    Food Forever and for All: The Food Movement in CanadaIn this paper I have chosen to explore praxis by drawing examples fromwhat I consider the food movement (see also Hassanein 2003; Wekerle2004). In Canada and around the world, issues related to the food sys-tem have become prominent among the concerns of individuals, groups,and organizations. Food security (ie the condition in which all peo-ple at all times can acquire safe, nutritionally adequate and personallyacceptable foods that are accessible in a manner that maintains humandignity; Ryerson University Centre for Studies in Food Security 2003)among the marginalised in all countries has long been a concern (egDaily Bread Food Bank 2005; Food and Agriculture Organization of the

    UnitedNations 2004).More recently, theenvironmental sustainability of a food system fuelled by chemicals, gasoline, and, increasingly, geneticmodification has been questioned by environmentalists (eg GreenpeaceCanada 2005; Sustain, 2005; see also Pretty et al 2005). Further, thedominance of a globalized, corporate industrial model of agriculturehas been challenged for its unfair treatment of workers (including mi-grant labourers, family farmers, and workers in processing plants; Cor-porate Agribusiness Research Project 2005; Schlosser 2001), its inhu-mane treatmentof animals (CanadianCoalition for Farm Animals 2005),and its commodification of the basic requirements of life (for example,through gene patenting and restrictions on seed savingRademacher2002; Third World Network 2004). In this context, access to sustain-able, healthy food is increasingly seen as an environmental justice issue,and the connections between formerly disparate fields of engagement(eg between anti-poverty and environmental activism) are being madeC 2007 The AuthorJournal compilation C 2007 Editorial Board of Antipode .

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    clear. Food activism, then, can make visible the normally opaque rela-tionships between environmental and human devastation. Healthy foodis a fundamental human needas such, food can be a powerful tool forbroad-based education and mobilization.

    The food movement, perhaps best seen as a loose alliance of actorsconcerned with a variety of food issues, is becoming increasingly or-ganized in Canada. After numerous networking meetings and strategysessions, two national organizations were formed in 2005 with the in-tention of formalizing and strengthening relationships in this arena. Thefirst of these, Food Secure Canada, has emerged as a national allianceof civil society organizations and individuals working collaborativelyto create food security in Canada and globally (Food Secure Canada2005). The organization is a very diverse partnership, bringing togetherfood banks, environmental groups, farmers, First Nations representa-tives, farm workers, public health organizations, and others to lobby forhunger reduction, sustainable food systems, andhealthy uncontaminatedfood (Food Secure Canada 2005). The second organization, the Cana-dian Association for Food Studies (CAFS), was organized to promotecritical, interdisciplinary scholarship . . . in response to societal needsfor informing policy makers, assessing the outcomes of community-based work, and demonstrating the environmental and social impactsof changes affecting food systems and food policies (CAFS 2005).CAFS is seen by some as the research wing of Food DemocracyCanada.

    While I think that the issues at stake within the food movement areon their own worthy of research attention, the key reason that this pa-per focuses on food is my own active involvement with this issue asresearcher and movement participant in Toronto, Canada. I have a long-standing interest in foodI grew up in a household where growing foodwas a part of life, and as an undergraduate became interested in how

    food security relates to both sustainability and social justice, and be-came involved in both research and action related to food. Two yearsago, I joined the University of Toronto Geography Department as atenure-track assistant professor. Since then, I have been collaboratingwith FoodShare Toronto, the Food Justice Coalition, and the TorontoFood Policy Council (among others) on research projects. I am the coor-dinator of the food and health working group of the Centre for UrbanHealth Initiatives (an organization which facilitates the developmentof intersectoral and community-based research partnerships). In addi-tion, I am part of a community-supported agriculture (CSA) program,in which individuals purchase shares of a local organic farmers crop,involved with several local food-related organizations and committees,and an enthusiastic but itinerant backyard food grower. These activi-ties have given me an opportunity to engage in praxis, and to developrelationships with a wide range of activists (including farmer activists,C 2007 The AuthorJournal compilation C 2007 Editorial Board of Antipode .

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    gardener activists, service provider activists, student activists and otheracademic activists). While these experiences are context-specific andcontingent, I hope by exploring them to contribute to a larger discussionon the role of academic praxis within the academy and in the broader


    Praxis in Critical Geography: a TypologyRecent commentaries have bemoaned the limited contribution thatgeographyand by extension, geographershave made to importantpublic debates (eg Martin 2001; Massey 2001; Dorling and Shaw 2002).Fuller and Kitchin (2004:6) relatedly argue that geographers have beensomewhat restrained in their policy andcommunity engagement. Theygo on to state that in geography:

    critical praxis seems to consist of little else beyond pedagogy and aca-demic writing. Potentially it might consist of calling for changes inpolicy. It may consist of research praxis that aims to be more reflex-ive or emancipatory or empowering (changing the conditions of theresearch process but rarely seeking wider social change). But it rarelyconsists of a marriage between academic and activist roles, in whichones private and professional attempts to change the world are notdivided into distinct and separable roles and tasks. (Fuller and Kitchin

    2004:6)This quote suggests that, while some praxis is occurring, certain kindsof praxis are not occurring. It also implies that certain forms of praxisare valued above others by the authors. This paper explores the natureof different forms of praxis, and also examines whether, and in whatcontexts, certain forms of praxis should be considered to have greatervalue.

    In this paper, I view praxis in a way that is closely aligned with

    Maxeys (2004:160) definition of activism, as something we can eachengage with in our everyday lives . . . attempting to do as much as wecan from where we are at. Defining praxis broadly allows the full suiteof activities engaged in by food movement participants to be evaluated.These range from the personal and everyday to encapsulated moments of group struggle (such as protests). I attempt to categorize these forms of praxis, not to set up boundaries around what counts as praxis, but ratherto illustrate the importance of several broad types, some of which cango unrecognised. I have divided activities somewhat arbitrarily basedon whether I consider them to occur inside the academy, outside theacademy, or to somehow link these two worlds. This serves as a startingpoint for elaborating the forms of praxis that bridge these largely illusoryboundaries, and also helps to contextualize later discussions. It shouldbe noted that I do not evaluate these forms as I describe themI leavethis until later in the paper.C 2007 The AuthorJournal compilation C 2007 Editorial Board of Antipode .

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    Praxis from the InsideMany commentators, including Mitchell (2004) and Fuller and Kitchin(2004), suggest that two forms of praxis dominate within theuniversityteaching and academic writing. Teaching students is of

    course one of the main functions of the university, and many academicsuse their classes as an opportunity to inform and inflame students. Insome cases, praxis through teaching is informed by radical pedagogicalconcepts such as those of Freire (1970, 1994; see also Shor 1980) orhooks (1994), while in others the critical or radical aspect is embeddedin the material being taught. In any case, teaching is seen as a primaryway to engage students in critically re-assessing their taken-for-grantedworld and to think about alternatives. Interestingly, a number of geog-raphers have reported how they use food issues as a launching pointfor critical reflection and engagement among students (eg Jarosz 2004;Mitchell 2004).

    And of course, many academic geographers undertake writing forpublication in (usually peer-reviewed) journals and books as a form of praxis. 2 Critical scholars work to expose injustices and the underlyingdynamics which produce them, advance or refine theory, and occasion-ally suggest and/or evaluate alternative ways of living, and they get theword out through publications andpresentations at conferences.Mitchell(2004:24) argues that this kind of written scholarship is an academicsmost enduring contribution, using Karl Marx as an example:

    Marxs relevance to the world is precisely his scholarly work . . . Therewere dozenshundredsof radical pamphleteers and revolutionarypolitical activists working, and doing important work, during Marxslife; yet most of these are forgotten to history . . . But Marxs expla-nations, contested as they may be, together with his mode of reason-ing, live on. They have been germinal rather than terminal, promotingwhole social movements, political struggle, and shelf after shelf of

    further scholarship, polemic, and analysis.In relation to the food movement, geographers and others have con-

    tributed significantly to articulating the problems associated with thedominant agro-business model (eg Barndt 2002; Friedberg 2004; Kimforthcoming) and to interrogating alternative modes of food produc-tion and consumption (eg Baker 2004; DuPuis and Goodman 2005;Goodman 2003; Guthman 2004). These and other works play a role inshaping the theoretical perspectives that guide movement activists.

    These two forms of praxis within the academy can be augmentedby a third: attempting to change the system we teach, write, and pur-sue the many other aspects of our careers within. Castree (1999) arguesthat activism at homethat is, within the universityis importantand increasingly needed, and should not take second place to activ-ity outside academia. Many articles have been written condemning the

    C 2007 The AuthorJournal compilation C 2007 Editorial Board of Antipode .

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    increased pressure to produce articles and teach more students(Castree 1999; Castree and Sparke 2000; Roberts 2000; Smith 2000;Wilbert and Hoskyns 2004). Others (eg Martin 2002; Shor 1980) havepresented powerful critiques of the higher education system as a mech-

    anism for reproducing and legitimizing existing social stratifications. Inthis context, struggling to rework the university as an institution couldbe an important form of praxis.

    Praxis on the OutsideA somewhat broader range of academic praxis exists when activitiesoutside the academy are considered, ranging from everyday activities toisolated but important moments of protest. Outside the university, aca-demics often subsume their university identities and engage with othersas regular peopleof course, these identities, though subsumed, arestill present and can never be fully set aside (hooks 1994).

    The first broad category of praxis outside the academy is the incor-poration of ones values into everyday activities. It is not surprising thatwithin the food movement, activities related to foodgetting it, prepar-ing it, eating itmatter. In order to act in a manner consistent with theirvalues, food activists havecreated alternative food provisioningsystems.These include specialty stores and co-ops that provide organic and localfoods, community supported agriculture (CSA), community gardens,and other shared facilities such as community kitchens and communalbake ovens (eg Friends of Dufferin Grove Park 2005). By supportingthese systems, food activists enact their values and also create informalopportunities to meet others with similar interests. This may help facil-itate a point of entry for those concerned about food issues but not yetpart of the movement per se.

    A second form of critical praxis outside the academy is involvement

    with groups and organizations. These groups may serve a primarilyactivist function, or provide services to those disadvantaged by the ex-isting system. In its most basic form, this involvement could take theform of donations; at the other end of the spectrum is involvement atthe managerial level (such as being a member of a board of directors).For example, Moss (2004) provides an in-depth description of her in-volvement with a service organization providing housing to women inneed, while Maxey (2004) describes his participation in various envi-ronmental groups. Similarly, academics have played a large role in thedevelopment of Food Democracy Canada, the new national alliance,and are actively involved in a number of local and regional food-relatedorganizations.

    Academics can also take action outside the academy through explic-itly political action. Formal political involvement could include vot-ing, contacting elected representatives about issues or working for aC 2007 The AuthorJournal compilation C 2007 Editorial Board of Antipode .

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    political party or candidate (or being one). Informal political actionsinclude civil disobedience with the goal of obstructing some activity.These activities are generally more periodic than other forms of praxis,serving as intense, crystallized moments of struggle. In my own recent

    experience, formal political action and direct action by academics hasnot been prominent in the food movement in Toronto, although somehealth professionals with academic affiliations were involved in a recentcampaign for supplements to welfare and disability support payments toallow recipients to buy better food (Ontario Coalition Against Poverty2005).

    Praxis that Bridges the DivideOf course, much of the praxis of academic activists serves to extendacademic activities into the community (or to a more limited extentvice versa), thus reducing the separation between inside and out-side. Some activities are obvious extensions of the work we already doas academicsnamely teaching and writingto non-academic venues.Teaching outside the academy can take place through public lectures,presentations at non-academic conferences, popular education and al-ternative training initiatives, etc. Often these forums are organized bycommunity organizations and activist groups to build awareness arounda particular issue or activity, and may include a number of different kindsof presenters as well as different kinds of learning opportunities. Someexamples from the food movement in Canada include the Food for Talk seminar series (Centre for Urban Health Initiatives 2006), the NationalFood Assembly (National Food Assembly 2005), and the Food JusticeCamp (Anglican Diocese of Ruperts Land 2005). Critical praxis inteaching can also bring the outside more explicitly into the classroomthrough practices such as bringing in guest lecturers and introducing ser-

    vice learning as a means of connecting students to communities (Jarosz2004; University of Toronto 2003).Writing for audiences outside academia is a similar extension of aca-

    demic work. It can include writing for newspapers and popular mag-azines as well as activist-oriented publications. Writing up the resultsof research with marginalized communities in ways that are accessi-ble to those communities can also be a powerful form of praxis. InToronto, books and newspaper articles are written (eg Roberts 2004,2005; Roberts, MacRae and Stahlbrand 1999) and traded with zeal byacademics and non-academics alike through venues such as the FoodNews e-bulletin. Other forms of dissemination, such as art installations,have also been undertaken by local academic activists (eg Royal OntarioMuseum 2000).

    The last two forms of critical praxis identified here have perhapsreceived the most attention from other commentators. Direct policyC 2007 The AuthorJournal compilation C 2007 Editorial Board of Antipode .

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    engagementthrough research contracts, and/or the purposeful tailor-ing of research messages to policymakersis considered a centrallyimportant form of engagement by many geographers (eg Dorling andShaw 2002; Martin 2001). By working directly with state actors, geog-

    raphers may be able to facilitate the development of progressive poli-cies. In Toronto, some academics work directly with municipal gov-ernment to shape local policy (eg through the Toronto Food PolicyCouncil).

    Finally, working directly with communities (particularly activist andmarginalized groups) in the development, execution, and final distribu-tion of research is seen by some as the ultimate form of critical academicpraxis, in which academic and activist roles are thoroughly blended andresearch becomes a collective experience that contributes in some tan-gible way to the goals, tactics and strategies of those with whom wecollaborate (Routledge 2004:84). This can include community-basedresearch (Sclove, Scammell and Holland 1998) and participatory actionresearch (Smith and Willms 1997), and generally differs from tradi-tional research by actively involving community members in the re-search process (from idea generation to analysis to dissemination of results), and through its orientation towards community improvementand social change rather than solely the expansion of knowledge (FullerandKitchin 2004; Morris 2002;Ritas 2003).Community-basedresearchis a prominent component of academic praxis within the Toronto foodmovement (eg Centre for Urban Health Initiatives 2006).

    Tensions in Praxis: Lessons from the Food MovementThe preceding section identified a wide variety of activities that couldbe considered part of critical praxis. Maxey (1999, 2004) notes that con-strainingdefinitionsof activismcanserve toexclude thosewhoprefernot

    to (or are unable to) engage in those activities considered real activism(eg protests), and conceals the often gendered, classed, and racializedprocesses by which particular activities get constituted as more or lesscentral. Similarly, defining academic praxis toonarrowlycanobscure thevarious forms of engagement that are undertaken by critical geographersinside and outside the academy.

    However, providing a laundry list of modes of praxis does not addressthe question of whether some forms of praxis are in fact more importantor effective than others, nor does it necessarily add to our understandingof how particular forms of praxis are supported or hindered by the posi-tioning of an academic activist within a social milieu. In order to addressthese questions, I return to my own activities within the food movement.These experiences (and related literature) are used to identify points of tension in academic praxis, which are then used in turn to think throughhow critical praxis can be best understood.C 2007 The AuthorJournal compilation C 2007 Editorial Board of Antipode .

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    Tension One: Position and PrivilegeA key point of tension in my own experience has been the develop-ment of forms of praxis that are sensitive not only to my own classed,gendered, and racialized position, but also to that of the other actors in

    the movement with whom I hope to collaborate. As a 33-year-old whitewoman of upper middle class Canadian origins, I cannot fully appre-ciate the hardshipsfor example, poverty and racismexperienced byothers (as in Gleeson 1998). My personal characteristics and upbring-ing also contribute to the way that I am seen by others (and the way I,not entirely consistently, see myself), as of course does my academicposition (Barnett 1997).

    This social and institutional positionality affects what I can do bothinside and outside the university. As an academic, I am ceded the powerto instruct others in a classroom setting, and in interactions with gov-ernment officials, organizational representatives, and community mem-bers, my opinions are given consideration due to my position. Being ayoungish-looking woman disrupts this authority somewhat, but in gen-eral my power to act as a professor goes unquestioned, no doubt aidedby my (generally unconscious) use of the language and symbols of theintellectual middle class that I emerged from.

    This has facilitated my praxis in a number of ways. My inclusion of course material that makes visible the social and environmental dynam-ics involved in growing, processing, anddistributing thestaples of every-day life generally goes unchallenged, as does my use of guest speakerswho can bring on-the-ground realities (eg of hunger in Canada) hometo the students. I am invited to participate in activities both within andoutside the university that allow me to voice my concerns about the foodsystem and its relation to underlying systems of oppression, and the ar-ticles I write for academic and popular audiences on the subject have agood chance of being published. I have also found it relatively easy to

    insert myself into expert networks made up of other academics, orga-nizational representatives, and sympathetic government actors, whoseactivities are focused on policy change. In all of these situations, I amable to push and challenge acceptance of the status quo and promoteparticular policies and programs.

    On the other hand, my social and institutional position has constrainedmy ability to work easily in direct partnership with marginalized com-munities. My position as an academic can lead to unwarranted deferenceto my comments and a reluctance amongst collaborators to voice theiropinions. It is difficult to pick out particular examples of this occurringhowever, after working closely with a community-based researcher on aproject investigating local community gardens contributions to neigh-bourhood well-being, I have grown to appreciate how differently I amtreated and responded to than an insider would be. This resonates withmuch of the literature on postionality that suggests attention must beC 2007 The AuthorJournal compilation C 2007 Editorial Board of Antipode .

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    consistently paid to the unequal power dynamics within a collaborativeresearch relationship (Chacko 2001; England 1994; Rose 1997; Wilton2004). Dismantling these barriers to academiccommunity partnershipsis difficult and time-consuming. Indeed, given that these barriers are

    lodged within deeply rooted mechanisms of social stratification, theyare likely to continue to emerge as problems despite ongoing efforts todevelop new relationships. For the same reason, however, working tobreak down these barriers is central to the work of making visible andpulling apart these exploitative structures.

    An additional facet of this tension is how we, as academics, mobilizeour academic persona to move particular issues and agendas forward.Academics who become directly involved in activist campaigns mustwalk a fine line, since giving support in an unqualified way can leadto questioning of a persons academic integrity in a way that negatesthe ability to mobilize an academic identity (eg going nativeFuller1999).Inthiscontext,thereispressuretomaintainorenhancethepercep-tion of objectivity, however false this perception may be. For example,the new Canadian food studies research association (CAFS) adopteda non-interventionist mandate, as follows: CAFS encourages researchthat promotes local, regional, national, and global food security, butdoes not advocate or endorse specific policies or political platforms(CAFS 2005). This was the subject of considerable debate within thegroup (which overlaps substantially with the activist network of FoodSecure Canada), but it was decided that adopting an explicit statementsuch as this would help temper potential criticisms about the objectivityof the group and would thus enhance the effectiveness of the organiza-tion. However, adopting such a stance clearly precludes particular formsof action. Determining if and when this is a worthwhile tradeoff is adifficult negotiation.

    All of these examples illustrate the necessity of thinking through ones

    own praxis in relation to the interplay between identity and situation. AsRoutledge notes:

    The point is not to escape our institutional or locational identities, butto subvert them, or make themwork for us in political ways that attemptto effect social, environmental, and political change. (2004:84)

    Paying appropriate recognition to what we are (Massey 2004), andhow that intersects with where we find ourselves, is thus an essentialcomponent of critical praxis.

    Tension Two: Working the SystemBeing a professor also implies working in an academic environment,often withina universityor an affiliatedcentreor institute. This particularstructural and institutional setting confers a unique set of facilitators andC 2007 The AuthorJournal compilation C 2007 Editorial Board of Antipode .

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    constraints to critical praxis. Much recent writing has focussed on thechallenges faced by academics trying to engage in critical work (egButterwick and Dawson 2005; Castree 1999; Castree and Sparke 2000).However, others have adopted a more positive view of the university as

    a place for critical praxis. For example, Mitchell argues:Doing radical scholarship hasperhaps never been easier . . . Many of uswho do radical scholarship are highly protected. We have permanentor tenured jobs. We get rewarded for pursuing our political agendas.(2004:25)

    This difference in opinion might be accounted for by national and insti-tutional dissimilarities, or by the diverse experiences and perspectivesof those writing, but I suspect this contradiction is more fundamental. I

    personally have found the academy to be both an easy and difficult placeto act. Critical praxis has been easy, because I have almost unequalledfreedom to set my own agenda and organize my days as I choose; be-cause I have supportive colleagues and mentors within and outside theuniversity; and because the current Canadian research funding infras-tructure is open to (and in some cases highly supportive of) certain kindsof critical inquiry. Unlike many other activists, I am relatively well paidfor the work I do. On the other hand, critical praxis is difficult, becausethe pressure to be productive (that is, to publish in peer-reviewed jour-nals) can overwhelm other activities, and because institutional interestin exploring alternative models of research, pedagogy and governanceis low. These institutional pressures have not directly impacted on whatI think or say; 3 instead, they can force my praxis into narrowly definedchannels.

    For example, publishing in peer reviewed journals is an importantcomponent of my performance review and tenure decisions (see Kitchinand Fuller 2005). However, the inaccessibility of academic publicationsto non-academicsboth in terms of their obfuscating style of writing(Dempsey and Rowe 2004; Martin 2002) and their limited availability tothose without access to a university librarycan limit their usefulness.Access to academic publications has been a problem for communityfood activists in Toronto, thus limiting the ability of academic work onfood systems to help those seeking to challenge these systems.

    Conversely, in work with food-related organizations I have repeatedlybeen asked to help assess the state of existing knowledge through liter-ature reviews, often with a very short turnaround time. I have also been

    asked to help with primary research to fill specific gaps (eg to calculatethe greenhouse gas emissions that would be saved if schools bought localapples rather than imported ones), so that the knowledge generated canbe incorporated directly into a specific campaign. I have rarely if everbeen asked to develop the kind of expansive, long-term, theoreticallyengaged research that is most likely to receive funding or lead directlyC 2007 The AuthorJournal compilation C 2007 Editorial Board of Antipode .

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    to peer-reviewed publications. There is an important disconnect, then,between the work that has meaning within the academy and the work that has meaning outside it (see also Kitchin and Fuller 2005).

    Similarly, the progressive potential of teaching is shaped by the in-

    stitutional environment. There is no external control exercised over myclassroom content, assuming that the students dont complain too much.However, the paucity of resources allocated to things like teaching as-sistance, field trips, honoraria for guest presenters, and administrativesupport for service learning and community engagement means that op-portunities for radical pedagogy (Friere 1994; Jarosz 2004; Shor 1980)are somewhat constrained. Overall, limits are placed around usefulacademic work through a subtle (and at times not so subtle) system of rewards and resource allocations.

    The university is thus a place that facilitates and constrains particularactivities. It is also a place through which significant material resourcesflow. The university represents a significant accumulation of assets, inthe form of libraries, classrooms, office space, laboratories, computingand telecommunications equipment, etc. In addition, there is a constantflow of money into the university in the form of research funding. Theseresources can be hard to come by in activist groups and community or-ganizations. I have found that while working in research partnerships,sometimes the most important contribution I can make is not my aca-demic skills, but rather my ability to provide resources and to open doorsthat would otherwise remain closed. For example, in my own researchprojects, the provision of material resourcessuch as library privileges,facilities for having meetings, access to photocopiers, computers and theinternet, and support for community eventshas often been more im-portant to the research partners than the research itself (see also Maxey2004; Wilton 2004). This is not to imply that research funding or infras-tructure should be misappropriated, but rather to draw attention to the

    fact that collaborative research canand shouldbe of direct benefitto participants in material as well as psychological ways. However, theextent to which this is feasible may be limited by existing structures andnorms that restrict the use of university and granting council resourcesto more traditional research activities.

    Tension Three: Making ChangeTrying to think through the effectiveness of particular activities in rela-tion to their potential to stimulate positive change is of course central toany radical project. This is an undercurrent of much of the literature thatdiscusses both policy relevant research and community-based research.That is, calls to make geography more policy relevant (eg Dorling andShaw 2002; Martin 2001) or more participatory (eg Fuller and Kitchin2004; Kitchin and Hubbard 1999) often rely on either explicit or implicitC 2007 The AuthorJournal compilation C 2007 Editorial Board of Antipode .

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    assumptions about how change is made. Doreen Massey (2002), in herresponse to Dorling and Shaws (2002) paper on the policy relevance of geography, takes the authors to task on just such an assumption:

    [The authors] conclude with an argument for policy engagement asprime means of making our research relevant. I am not so sure . . . Tobegin with, influencing policy can be done by other means than directaccess to Ministers and such . . . Rather, one might believe it to be moreeffective to work with campaigning groups, to engage in wider waysof influencing public opinion, to participate in a more embedded waywithin civil society. For me, this has been particularly productive.Further, ones decisions on these things will depend on the situation.In the Thatcher years, I did not judge highly my potential influence inthe corridors of Whitehall . . . The current situation, for me, is muchmore ambiguous, and the possibilities for direct policy advice aregreater. (Massey 2002:646)

    Masseys response clearly articulates a tension between the belief thatthe way to create change is by working with existing policymakers, andthe belief that changeand radical change in particularis achievedthough work at the grassroots. It also notes how responses to this tensionare contingent: certain actors are more likely to be able to achieve theirgoals in certain situations using particular tactics, and so the tactics

    employed might reasonably vary by context. In my own work, I havebeen opportunistic as much as tactical, taking advantage of situations asthey arose. When I arrived at my new job, I was lucky enough to knowanother academic involved in the food movement, and so was quicklyintroduced to what was happening within the citys universities and insome of the local organizations. While this process of introduction isongoing, I have worked within this growing network to carry out bothpolicy analysis and local, community-based projects (see Centre forUrban Health Initiatives (CUHI) 2006). These projects have differentaims and different audiences, and so not surprisingly have had differenteffects. However, I would be hard pressed to suggest that one set of outcomes is more important or meaningful than another.

    While this tension between making change from within versus atthe grassroots has been most clearly articulated in relation to researchpractice, it can permeate other aspects of academic life, particularlyteaching. In Canada, university geography students are still mostly whiteand middle class. Teaching this cohort provides an opportunity to im-pact the leaders of tomorrow; however, those interested in bringingabout change within broader civil society, or by working directly withmarginalised groups, may consider this too narrow. This is again con-text specificmy university, in the heart of one of the most multiculturalcities in the world, has an extremely diverse student body, particularlyat the undergraduate level, and this tremendous breadth of experience

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    enhances opportunities for cross-cultural exchange and dialogue in theclassroom. At the same time, getting involved in popular education bothwithin and outside the university (eg through the Food for Talk semi-nar series; CUHI 2006) allows me to connect with an even broader range

    of people.One other issue worth noting here is the relative importance of, and therelationship between, theory/research and action in making change. Us-ing a personal example, David Sibley notes that theoretical developmentcan outstrip the practical and political purposes of that theory:

    [These] ideas were attractive and relevant and, in retrospect, I wouldconsider this tohavebeengood enough theory. If the objectofwritingis to raise political consciousness and to influence practice, why botherwith further theoretical elaboration? However, this Occams razor viewof academic writingthat it is vain to do with more what can be donewith fewer, as Bertrand Russell expressed Occams principledoesnot accord with the idea of academic knowledge as an element of theaccumulation process. (Sibley 2004:5354)

    If this is indeed the case, to what extent do we, as academics, contributeto what may be a further refinement of theory at the expense of action?This is an important question for those attempting to engage in criticalpraxis, particularly in concert with community-based activists, who are

    often skeptical of the utility of academic inquiry. At a recent communityevent, some young food activists and I had a lengthy conversation on thispoint. Theywere convinced that researchwork was a waste of money thatcould be better spent on direct interventions (see also Halfacree 2004).While I was nominally arguing that research could play an important rolein social change, I dont think any of us left convinced that knowledgein and of itself could move an agenda forward, or that more research isalways a good thing.

    Tension 4: Linking Action Back to ReflectionPraxis is by definition theoretically informed, as it consists of meldingtheory and practice in a dynamic relationship. Reflexivityconstantregard for, and critique of, our own practicesis also a fundamentalcomponent of critical praxis. The praxis of the academic-activist thusentails explicit and honest reflection on ones own actions, how wellthey reflect underlying values, and how effective they are in relation toembraced theories of change. It can also involve the sympathetic butcritical analysis of activist movements and organizations themselves.

    Within the food movement, there is considerable evidence of this kindof organizational critique. Some authors raise concerns about attentionto class and social justice issues within the food movement. For exam-ple, Allen et al (2003) discuss the limited extent to which social justiceconcerns are being incorporated into local food initiatives, whileC 2007 The AuthorJournal compilation C 2007 Editorial Board of Antipode .

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    McCullum et al (2003) highlight how marginalised groups can be disem-powered within food security planning. Others note that food movementactivities are often middle-class and highly localized, which can resultin exclusionary practices (DuPuis and Goodman 2005; Hinrichs 2003).

    Other critiques of the broad movement centre on the utility of partic-ular activities being engaged in. Monbiot critiques guerrilla gardeningas futile (Monbiot, quoted in Halfacree 2004), while Tarasuk (2001)suggests that alternative food programs are depoliticizing and unableto address the root causes of food insecurity. Goodman and Dupuis(2002:17) suggest that alternative food practices, such as CSAs, couldbe viewed as transitory utopian entertainment for a few middle-classconsumers and their fortunate few farmer friends, while others have ar-gued that these alternative practices are by their very nature incapable of fundamentally changing the mainstream food system (Allen et al 2003;Guthman 2004; Magdoff et al 2000).

    Within the Toronto movement, these critiques could prove relevant,whether in relation to the use of volunteer and low-paid labour in local or-ganic farms and CSAs, or the over-representation of white, middle-classwomen (and the concomitant under-representation of people of colourand men) within food security organizations. Reflecting on these issues,as well as on the usefulness of particular strategies in creating change,could help activist groups become more effective. However, negotiatinghow and when to raise these critiques can be challenging, and the aca-demic activist runs the risk of being perceived as an interfering outsiderrather than co-participant (see Halfacree 2004). In addition, seeking outand highlighting these contradictions, especially for a broader audience,could do more to harm the movement than move it forward (see alsoRoutledge 2004), and so the academic-activist must wrestle with how,and how far, to pursue these critiques.

    Academics must also consider the extent to which their critiques can

    be considered unwarranted nay-saying. As many activists andacademicshave noted, criticising is often easier than developing solutionswhilecritical reflexivity is absolutely essential to ensuring that activists doless harm than good, zealous critique can lead to paralysis if it is notaccompanied by theoretically informed suggestions about how to moveforward. Flipping this argument around, engagement in the practical,on-the-ground activities of change can also be a catalyst to theoreticaldevelopment. Massey captures this relationship, reflecting on her ownexperience:

    Mostof my(intellectual, theoretical . . .) arguments developedpreciselyin political activity. It is not a case of sitting at ones desk, having anidea, and rushing out to tell a politician. For me, what I have alwaysfound most productive as a way of working is an endless moving-between. (Massey 2002:645)

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    It is worth remembering that praxis is not only about informing actionwith theory, but also about how action can itself lead to the developmentof richer theoryacademic theory that is, as Foucault had hoped, anactivity conducted alongside those who struggle for power (Foucault

    and Deleuze 1977:208).My position on alternative practices within the food movement isone example of how theory and practice develop iteratively. I am in-volved in a number of alternative food system activities (eg CSAs, gar-dening) and work with organizations that develop these systems. Therecent critiques of these activities that have emerged in the literatureare cogent and powerful, and in many cases accurately reflect what Isee in the food movement. However, I continue to be involved withthese activities, for both theoretical and practical reasons. While I agreewith those who suggest that alternative food systems cannot substitutefor mainstream change, I also agree with scholars who argue that thesekinds of projects are important to our ability to imagine alternatives toexisting exploitative structures (as in Gibson-Graham 2005) and to de-veloping capacity for local democracy (Baker 2004; Hassanein 2003).In this context, identifying and living alternativestrying to live as if the world were differentis an important component of change. Analo-gous to Beys (1985) notion of the temporary autonomous zone, I seeday-to-day involvement in the alternative food systemfor example,receiving fresh wholesome food and developing living relationships(Kaldjian 2005) with food growers through a CSAas providing anarena for liberating experiences (see also Soper 2004). This theoreticalperspective is enacted through my involvement in the alternative foodsector. On the other hand, I feel that the concerns raised about the classednature of and lack of attention to social justice issues within alternativefood practices are worth pursuing, not only in an academic context, butalso within the movement itself. Continued engagement thus provides

    me with an avenue for raising these issues with others in the movementand for changing the programs I am a part of. Overall, my engagementwith both theory and practice in a number of different settings enhancesmy understanding of the issues in ways that shape both my scholarshipand social action, and my various activities knit together into a broaderpolitical project.

    Beyond Policy Relevance: Praxis as Critical EngagementThe tensions identified above focus attention on a number of elements

    of critical praxis:1 the need to situate oneself and ones praxis within multiple and

    often contradictory fields of power (Andermahr 1997, quoted inButler 2001:267);

    2 the importance of thinking through the university itself as a settingthat both facilitates and constrains praxis;

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    3 the need to orient oneself in relation to potential levers of change;and finally

    4 the importance of an iterative relationship between theory and prac-tice.

    The discussion also points to the roles that academic activists can playin facilitating access to resources and to the perceived legitimacy of academics in particular types of discourse. The potential role of sym-pathetic critique in stimulating progressive change is highlightedwithcaveatsas well.

    The final step is to determine how these roles and concerns map ontothe categories of praxis identified earlier in the paper. Are there modesor forms of praxis that can genuinely be construed as more meaningful

    then others? Does critical praxis differ from policy relevant geographyin more than just its ideological intent, and if so, what are its distinctivecharacteristics? While any answer to these questions elucidated here isadmittedly partial, I think the above discussion points to three elementsthat set critical praxis apart.

    The first is the importance of direct versus indirect engagement. Mostaccounts of academic praxis prioritize either direct policy engagementor direct involvement with marginalised communities through research.The focus on direct action to achieve change, and on direct inter actionwith other change agents, probably makes sense. Engaging directly withthe agents and levers of change, rather than expecting academic researchand teaching to make a difference in isolation from these agents, isan important component of critical praxis. However, other forms of praxis deserve some attention in this contextin particular, teaching isoften left out of discussions of direct engagement, despite the potentialimportance of popular education and critical consciousness raising increating change.

    Second, the position of the academic-activist within an institutionalcontext provides an opportunity to loosen up and open out theboundaries between the university and the real world. This can involveresearch, teaching, or service: forms of research that actively involvecommunities can demystify the research process and break down bar-riers; popular education takes the university into the community, whileservice learning and other initiatives bring the community into the class-room; and, as the university has been criticized as a mechanism forreproducing social stratification, working to reform the institution is

    important. The focus here should not be on the type of praxis being un-dertaken, but rather its purposenamely, to break down the boundariesbetween inside and outside.

    The third element is an intimate, iterative relationship between think-ing and acting. This is a key component of the marriage between aca-demic and activist roles that Fuller and Kitchin (2004:6) would like toC 2007 The AuthorJournal compilation C 2007 Editorial Board of Antipode .

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    see, but rather than link this melding of identities exclusively to participa-tory research, I see it aspart ofa larger range ofactivities. Many academicactivists engage in more than one form of praxis, and these complemen-tary activitiesin conjunction with theoretical engagementimpact on

    the identity of the person undertaking them. The reflexive dynamic be-tween theory and action thus has the potential to improve both. In addi-tion, partnerships with other activists, whether for research or throughother forms of praxis, can help to keep academics connected with the is-sues they hope to influence. Dempsey and Rowe (2004:35) suggest thatif critical theorists work from too much distance . . . [they lose] touchwith the political spaces they should be interrogating, and the constituen-cies they should be conversing with. Wilbert and Hoskyns (2004:64)go further, stating that academics engaged exclusively in policy work can develop the same situated perspectives as policy makers, failing tosee how things may look from below in its differing forms. We dontjust act in praxis, it also acts on us, and the most effective critical praxistherefore works to crystallize and reinforce the radical/critical identityof the person engaged in it.

    It is important to keep in mind however that opportunities for andexpressions of praxis are contingent. Where a person ispersonally,culturally, socially, and even geographicallyinfluences how they willcombine theory and practice, and the challenges they face in their praxiswill also vary. What works in one context can fail in another. For exam-ple, the middle-class nature of many alternative food practices createsopportunities and constraints that would be different than those encoun-tered in anti-hunger advocacy with food bank clients. Praxis can there-fore be positioned as a series of tactics that can be used in the struggleto transform the world, in which the unifying theme is dedicated butreflective commitment to a radical change.

    It is also important to avoid a conception of praxis that sees these

    critical intellectual processes as necessarily boring and self-excoriating.On the one hand, it has been argued (as in Massey 2004:14, emphasisin original) that we must recognizeand act onthe responsibilitieswhich attach to those relations and aspects of our identity . . . throughwhich we, and our places, have been constructed. On the other hand,and at the risk of sounding earnest, I want to emphasize one aspectof critical engagement that often gets ignored in academic discussions:namely, the joy that can come from working together with others to builda better world. In particular, imagining and participating in alternativeemancipatory spaces (or temporary autonomous zonesBey 1985) cangenerate a thrill of liberation that points us toward the world we couldhave, as Bertrand Russell described it almost a century ago:

    The world that we must seek is a world in which the creative spiritis alive, in which life is an adventure full of joy and hope, based

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    rather upon the impulse to construct than upon the desire to retainwhat we possess or to seize what is possessed by others. It must be aworld in which affection has free play, in which love is purged of theinstinct for domination, in which cruelty and envy have been dispelledby happiness and the unfettered development of all the instincts thatbuild up life and fill it with mental delights. (Russell 1997 [1918]unpaginated)

    This is not dry academic stuff, but rather what hope is made of.Similarly, working in partnership with the oppressed and marginal-

    ized, as well as with those who have concretely dedicated their livesto their liberation, can generate strong feelings of fellowship. WhileCorbridge (1993) has argued that academics have a particular respon-sibility to act to protect distant strangers (see also Routledge 2004), Iwould suggest that critical praxis at its best serves to bridge the distancebetween academics and others, so that the oppressed are no longer dis-tant or strangers but rather colleagues and companions and occasionallyco-conspirators. This is not to say that it should be taken for grantedthat these bonds are always reciprocal, or that the differences in powerand status between academics and those in marginalized positions canbe erased. Instead, it is a call to try and create relationships throughpraxis that challenge existing structures of domination and simultane-

    ously bring joy and respect into the lives of the people participating inthose relationships.As Maxey (2004:169) notes, praxis is not a separate element from ei-

    ther our academic or ourpersonal lives. Instead, our reflexiveactivismissomething we, as critical geographers, carry with us throughout the day,enriching our lives and helping us live them so that life more generallymay be enriched. By exploring different forms of academic praxis inrelation to the food movement, this paper has attempted to highlight po-tential benefits and drawbacks of particular approaches in one particular

    context. By so doing, I hope to contribute to a broader discussion of howcritical geographers might contribute, through praxis, to the recognitionand restructuring of social relations as part of the broader emancipatoryproject that is central to critical geography.

    AcknowledgementsThe author would like to acknowledge the assistance and supportof many activists and academics within the Toronto food movement,who provided the substance of this paper. Mustafa Koc, Charles Lev-koe, Carolin Taron, Fiona Yeudall and Joy Harewood deserve spe-cial thanks for commenting on paper drafts. Thanks should also go tothe four reviewers who provided extremely insightful and constructivecomments.C 2007 The AuthorJournal compilation C 2007 Editorial Board of Antipode .

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    Endnotes1 This vision of critical geography expressed in this paper is aligned with a radical leftistperspective, described by Amin and Thrift (2005:221) as having four main character-istics: First, a powerful sense of engagement with politics and the political. Second. . . a consistent belief that there must be better ways of doing things than are currentlyfound in the world. Third, a necessary orientation to a critique of power and exploitationthat both blight peoples current lives and stop better ways of doing things from cominginto existence. Fourth, a constant and unremitting critical reflexivity towards our ownpractices: no one is allowed to claim that they have the one and only answer or the oneand only privileged vantage point.2 It should be noted that, by focusing on the products of research (eg articles) rather thanthe research process itself, a number of important and often positive consequences of research could be missed. In particular, the involvement of activists and individuals frommarginalized communities in the research process can be an empowering experience forthose involved. In these cases, however, the line between purely academic activities and

    those taking place outside are blurred, so further discussion of these approaches takesplace later on in the paper.3 This is not to say that more overt discipline is never applied by universitiesit is notunheard of for individuals to be censured for being outspoken, and activist activitiescan be looked upon unfavourably in relation to tenure and promotion (see, for example,Martin 1998, 2002).

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