The State as a High Modernist Planner: Planning of Food System Transitions in Nanjing, China
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Food system planning is a nascent concept in both food studies and planning studies. Recent food planning studies point out that food issues have been mostly left out in modern planning practices and research, despite the fact that food makes up a critical aspect of urban development, economic growth, and public health. Only in the last two decades have scholars begun to advocate for the inclusion of food, and very little research attention has been paid to the theories and practices of food system planning in China. Zhong et al. (2021) bring to light the subject of food system planning in the Chinese context. They showcase the assets Chinese cities have for conducting food system planning with an example of food security planning in Nanjing. However, municipal governments’ focus on food system planning goes beyond food security and is entangled with the goal to modernize the cities. This thesis inspects this entanglement by revealing the pursuit of modernization among Nanjing’s food system planning practices. Drawing on James Scott’s concept of high modernism, I argue that the local governments in Nanjing’s regional food systems could be characterized as high modernist planners. In the high modernist approach, the design and the implementation of food system planning prioritizes industrial standardization, visual order, and technological progress over diverse traditions, functional order, and social innovations. The outcomes of such planning, however, are often at odds with the intended food security and sustainability goals due to a disconnect with the needs of food producers, vendors, and consumers. This thesis consists of three case studies on food system planning in Nanjing, China. Case study one (Chapter 4) reveals the recent rise of new retail businesses and the government support that fueled their growth. The rapid growth of new retail businesses, however, undermined the stability of the local food supply and food security. This finding shows the danger of pursuing high-modernist models in the remaking of food retail environment. Case study two (Chapter 5) focuses on the government planned transformation of the wet markets. This chapter finds that the high-modernist transformation measures, albeit intended to improve wet market appearances and functions, have negatively impacted the livelihoods of vendors and failed to make any actual contributions to food security/food safety goals. Case study three (Chapter 6) examines the evolution of the authorities’ approach to agricultural modernization, I argue that large agribusinesses maintain advantages in accessing government support because they fit with the high-modernist vision of modern agriculture. At the same time, a diverse group of new farmers independent from government planning attempt to address food safety and sustainability concerns in a less modern-looking fashion. This research adopts a qualitative approach in data collection and processing. Data applied in this thesis consist of semi-structured interviews, food policy documents and social media posts. Qualitative data are analyzed through thematic analysis and a two-step coding process. Overall, this thesis proposes using the concept of high-modernism to interpret the governance logic within China’s food system planning. Specifically, China’s food system planning prioritizes the techno-scientific logic that focuses on infrastructure and technology development and the aesthetic logic that focuses on replacing traditional, “backward” appearing food activities with modern, orderly businesses that appeal to developmentalist aesthetics. The high-modernist planning has two most evident flaws: fixation with technological progress leads to the oversight of grassroots social innovations; fixation with middle-class optics lead to a disconnect with the needs of marginalized communities. Adopting the lens of high modernism leads to a better understanding of the priorities, rationale, and pitfalls of government planning in China’s food system transitions. Research findings of and proposed concepts in the thesis have implications for food security and sustainability policies in Nanjing and other Chinese cities with comparable socio-economic parameters.
Cite this version of the work
Ning Dai (2022). The State as a High Modernist Planner: Planning of Food System Transitions in Nanjing, China. UWSpace. http://hdl.handle.net/10012/18080