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Claiming Food Sovereignty: Legal Mobilization in an Era of Global Governance

Studies in Law, Politics, and Society

ISBN: 978-1-83982-279-7, eISBN: 978-1-83982-278-0

Publication date: 4 May 2020


As social movements engage in transnational legal processes, they have articulated innovative rights claims outside the nation-state frame. This chapter analyzes emerging practices of legal mobilization in response to global governance through a case study of the “right to food sovereignty.” The claim of food sovereignty has been mobilized transnationally by small-scale food producers, food-chain workers, and the food insecure to oppose the liberalization of food and agriculture. The author analyzes the formation of this claim in relation to the rise of a “network imaginary” of global governance. By drawing on ethnographic research, the author shows how activists have internalized this imaginary within their claims and practices of legal mobilization. In doing so, the author argues, transnational food sovereignty activists co-constitute global food governance from below. Ultimately, the development of these practices in response to shifting forms of transnational legality reflects the enduring, mutually constitutive relationship between law and social movements on a global scale.




This chapter is based on research supported through a National Science Foundation Law and Social Science Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant (SES #1323743). It is the product of conversations, interviews, and participant observation with food sovereignty activists who were immensely generous with their time. I am thankful for the support and comments that I received on this work from Sally Merry, Christine Harrington, Bruce Grant, Marc Edelman, Christopher Baum, Leon Castellanos-Jankiewicz, Alyson Price, Daniela Alaattinoğlu, and Amy Cohen. Support was also generously provided by the European University Institute, Max Weber Postdoctoral Program. Responsibility for any misinterpretations is strictly my own.


Canfield, M.C. (2020), "Claiming Food Sovereignty: Legal Mobilization in an Era of Global Governance", Sarat, A. (Ed.) Studies in Law, Politics, and Society (Studies in Law, Politics, and Society, Vol. 82), Emerald Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 119-140.



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