Topic: De-learning to disrupt: Collective reflections on an under-theorized concept and overlooked phenomenon within agri-food studies
Keywords: De-learning, agri-food systems, transition, knowledge, agroecology
This paper* explores the meanings, processes and implications of de-learning, which remains an undertheorized concept and overlooked phenomenon within agri-food studies. In addition to the acquisition or adoption of new knowledge, skills, technologies, and behaviours, de-learning draws attention to parting from and potential breaking with past patterns and perceptions. De-learning therefore offers an important dialectic which appears to be equally important for understanding ruptures with dominant regimes, as well as the adoption of innovations, practices and values which may lead to more sustainable agri-food systems. Empirically the paper engages with different examples of de-learning (and de-learners) to highlight the relevance of this phenomenon from farm to fork. Our cases range from conventional and agroecological approaches to farming through to civic food networks, food procurement innovations, and collaborative governance. In our examples, de-learning becomes visible in manifold ways: it includes reflexivity and symbolic actions, but also expresses itself through the longing for alternatives that have grown out of disillusionment and counter beliefs. De-learning affords active engagement in alternative social and technical networks, which enable individuals, social groups and organisations to de-learn what they no longer (fully) believe in. While these acts and engagements can be disrupting and may evolve incrementally or more rapidly, they do not necessarily result in fundamental change. However, they help people along a transition path by providing guidance and creating social belonging. We contend that more attention to de-learning and its different forms, contexts and scales, may help us to address the emotional, cognitive and practical challenges that are inherent in accommodating the new with the old, and to uphold societal support systems that make more sustainable transitions possible.
*The idea for this paper emerged during several discussions between the authors at the ESRS Autumn School 2018 in Riga, Latvia.