, VI Conference of BRICS Initiative of Critical Agrarian Studies

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From Disembedding to Re-embedding: Double Movement of China’s Food System, 1978-2018
Fang ping, Zhou li

Last modified: 2018-12-13


By reviewing the changes in the relations among country, market and social actors, this paper studies the practical history of food system transformation in China, and discusses the evolutionary dynamics and core mechanisms of the double movement. Food market system appeared in China in 1978. By the mid-1990s, the rural-oriented market mechanism played a major role in the reform of the country's modernization, which became an important force in the extraction of funds, land and labor, accelerating the process of the disembedding of food system from the society. After 2000, the food supply and demand situation fluctuated in domestic market, introducing three rural issues: agriculture, rural areas and farmers. Therefore, the government changed its attitude towards the marketized food system with the intention of stabilizing food supply by alleviating the three rural issues. Nevertheless, the policy intention of the country, this “visible hand”, was obstructed by the market, the “invisible hand”, in the market-oriented reform. In the context of the continuous extension of the urban and rural food supply and demand chain, and the unceasing solidification of the food system's power structure, the market-oriented food system further accelerates the process of disembedding, which triggers problems on systemic food safety and environmental damage. At the same time, social actors spontaneously choose “One Family Two Systems” (OFTS) and Alternative Food Nets (AFNs) system as action mode to promote the country to improve the food market disembedding situation and form a reverse movement from legal and political levels. Thus, China's food system has experienced a double movement from disembedding to re-embedding. The power of re-embedding comes from the modernization process of the country, and its mechanism is combination without cooperation. Only with the active changes of social actors and the country, promoting the re-embedding of market institutions into social relations, can we promote the sustainable development of the food system.


Food System; Counter-movements; Disembedding; Re-embed; Combination Without Cooperation

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