Negotiating Sustainabilities

Navigating Organic Agriculture in Capitalist Markets


  • Alexandra Hammer University of Goettingen, Institute of Cultural Anthropology/European Ethnology


sustainability, organic agriculture, more-than-human anthropology, food supply chains, capitalist logics, Germany, ethnography


Organic agriculture aims at enabling sustainable food economies. But agricultural temporalities and practices do not necessarily align with demands and schedules posed by packers, processors, or retailers – a detachment that complicates the actors’ pursuits of sustainability. This paper builds on participant observation during nine workshops with actors along the German organic food supply chain. Viewing these events through an ethnographic lens reveals the complex web of agricultural, political, and economic constraints that needs to be navigated from farm to supermarket. Situated at the intersection of more-than-human anthropology and anthropology of time, this article asks how actors involved in the production, distribution, and marketing of organic foods negotiate and (re)imagine sustainability. What obstacles do they see, and whose agencies and fates do they consider within their negotiations? How do these narrations and practices point to possible reconfigurations of sustainability? The analysis sheds light on sustainability’s emergent nature and its relations to prevailing (global) power imbalances and wealth gaps. Looking at the organic food supply chain through the lens of time frames and rhythms allows for a conceptualization of sustainability as a situated endeavor, variable across time and space and deeply dependent on nonhuman agencies and specific situational contexts. Following globalized connections further demonstrates how sustainability must include disadvantaged and exploited people within and across national borders.

Research Articles



How to Cite

Hammer, A. (2023). Negotiating Sustainabilities : Navigating Organic Agriculture in Capitalist Markets. Ethnologia Fennica, 49(2), 9–35.