University of Sussex
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Sustainability, resilience and governance of an urban food system: a case study of peri-urban Wuhan

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posted on 2023-06-09, 04:55 authored by Jonathan DolleyJonathan Dolley
While it is clear that urban food systems need to be made resilient so that broader sustainability goals can be maintained over time, it has been a matter of debate as to how resilience should be conceptualised when applied to social-ecological systems. Through a case study of peri-urban Wuhan, this research develops and applies a resilience based conceptual framework for periurban food systems analysis in order to explore the potential for an enhanced understanding of resilience that can contribute to promoting sustainability in urban food systems. The evidence of this thesis suggests that the current approach to governance of Wuhan’s periurban vegetable system is building an increasingly exclusionary pattern of resilience. It is a form of resilience building which is likely to undermine broader normative sustainability goals around social justice and environmental integrity and have mixed future implications for food system resilience as a whole, particularly in relation to livelihood outcomes for peri-urban farmers and food safety outcomes for urban consumers in general. The key lessons from this research are that the concept of resilience can be used to support either a narrowing down or an opening up of normative framings of system outcomes and can contribute to obscuring or revealing the multiple processes of change unfolding across the levels of system context, structures and actors. These dualities in the way that resilience thinking can contribute to normative and analytical framings need to be explicitly acknowledged if serious unintended consequences of resilience building interventions are to be avoided. Six important principles for conceptualising resilience in urban food systems are suggested: to 1) disaggregate system outcomes, 2) differentiate function and structure, 3) analyse positive and negative resilience, 4) identify external and structural shocks and stresses, 5) analyse resilience in relation to multiple and multi-scale processes of change and 6) recognise the impacts of those processes on marginalised system actors. Finally, a heuristic framework is presented for guiding the design of resilience analyses of human dominated social-ecological systems.


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  • SPRU - Science Policy Research Unit Theses

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  • doctoral

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  • eng


University of Sussex

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