1) Examining the impacts of agri-food industrialization and digitalization on food system resilience
My research has responded to questions about the impacts of agricultural industrialization, digitalization, and automation on agricultural ecologies (soil, crops, and biodiversity), workers, and communities and has examined major challenges for governing technologies and data systems in agriculture. My earlier work provides evidence for how industrialization is propelling land consolidation and competitive tenure arrangements in ways that are eroding biodiversity and soil organic matter, making food systems more vulnerable to perturbations like climate change and COVID-19. My recent research shows how emerging digital agricultural technologies are being developed by corporate actors to advance highly capital intensive agro-ecological management models, which will deepen food system vulnerability. I show how this confluence of forces will further enable corporate land investment and financialization while disempowering land stewards and food growers who have little recourse under our model of private land ownership.
2) Identifying structural oppression in land and food systems
Across my work, I focus on how political, economic, and technological trends influence conditions of structural oppression across the food system. In some of my research, I use quantitative survey and soil data coupled with in-depth interviews, focus groups, and discourse analysis to show how shifts in farmland management are exploiting already-marginalized actors and institutions. In more recent work, I show how ag-tech players are mobilizing data and technology in ways that advance corporate concentration, reinforce economic and social inequities, and deepen labour exploitation. I’m doing some research with Dr. Kelly Bronson, Dr. André Magnan, and Emily Duncan to show that scientific decisions about which data to collect and how to use them are privileging already powerful food system actors—farmers managing large commodity crop operations and the large agribusinesses supplying them. By economic logic, this bias makes sense as these farms have the money to pay for expensive commercial technologies, but the bias presents significant social, environmental, and land management problems which are crucial to understanding the human impacts of agriculture. My research also demonstrates how settler colonial patriarchy produces narratives that work for and reflect dominant white-rural, masculine identities, which then reinforce the same resource accumulation models I show to be ecologically destructive.
3) Land and food policy analysis
There is significant debate about how best to design government policy to address insecurity, vulnerability, and inequity in the food system. My research engages both theoretically and practically with such debates and shows how political decisions are making our food system less able to adapt to threats from climate change to political unrest and COVID-19. In my research, I aim to push scholars, decision makers and the public to consider how policy decisions regarding who gets to grow food, how and for whom have directly impacted our ability to holistically address urgent issues of soil health, biodiversity, ecological conservation as well as farm incomes and rural livelihoods.
4) Building critical methodological tools
Mindful of my position as a white settler scholar, I have worked to practice accountability to/with Black and Indigenous collaborators and communities that I connect and partner with. For the RAIR Insight Development project, we are a group of six Indigenous and non-Indigenous women who have embarked on a collective visioning exercise (see project vision) that prioritizes processes of relationship and trust building grounded in feminist practices of self-reflexivity and positionality. From here, we have collectively developed project objectives and protocols for establishing an Indigenous Advisory Committee. While we will publish our results, a central goal is to bring together Indigenous and non-Indigenous scholars, activists, farmers, and land-based peoples to engage in knowledge creation practices that extend beyond academic forums and directly benefit the communities to which we are accountable.
RAIR Collective: Relational Accountability for Indigenous Rematriation
As a research collective, we are using anti-colonial feminist methodologies to do community-based research based on the vision and objectives expressed below. Our research collective currently includes Indigenous and settler academics, food provisioners, and community-based activists: Adrianne Lickers Xavier, Ayla Fenton, Danielle Boissoneau, Terran Giacomini, Lauren Kepkiewicz, and myself (Sarah Rotz), as well as RAIR research and program coordinators, Stephanie Morningstar and Sonia Hill.
The RAIR website is in development and coming soon!