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Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - IRI THESys

Sustainability Goals in Practice: A Comparative Ethnographic Inquiry into the Everyday Logics of Canteen Supply Chains

Ruzana Liburkina is a PhD student at the Institute of European Ethnology at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin and a member of the THESys Graduate Program. Her research interests include food systems, trade patterns in the making, valuation practices, and different ways of regulating sustainability issues.

photo: Ethnographic jottings, Ruzana Liburkina
Fig.:Ethnographic jottings, Ruzana Liburkina

The production and consumption of food has significant environmental impacts. Meanwhile, sustainable transformations of complex food systems require more than technological solutions or claims addressing the responsibility of individual consumers. Commodity markets, trade networks and logistics do not only notably determine turnovers, pricing and employment but also influence waste production and greenhouse gas emissions. They shape socio-ecological order and are simultaneously an integral part of it. Thus, detailed social scientific analysis of infrastructures linking agricultural production and food consumption is vital for understanding the formation of existing patterns and trends.

This thesis deals with food supply chains as practical accomplishments. By employing methods such as participant observation, qualitative interviewing and mapping, as well as document analysis, a multi-sited ethnography will be conducted in order to study the connections between food preparation, storage, distribution/transport, and production ‘on the ground’. The fieldwork begins in two canteens and will follow certain supply lines backwards until reaching relevant sites of origin. The main questions guiding the research interest are as follows: (1) How do ecological sustainability goals and economic efficiency principles relate to each other in practice? (2) In what forms is knowledge on the role of food systems for the global environment present? How does it shape action and organisational strategies? (3) Which decision making processes underlie the establishment of trade connections and what practical efforts are continuously required in order to keep them stable? (4) Which effective interventions towards sustainable change can be suggested in view of the respective results?

Particular analytical attention is paid to issues such as decision making, infrastructural embeddedness of trade and logistical operations, agency of standards and technologies, relative location and distance, and organisational routines.

Ruzana graduated in European Ethnology from Humboldt-University Berlin (MA) and in Social & Cultural Anthropology and Media & Communication Studies from Free University Berlin (BA). She holds a scholarship from the German Federal Environmental Foundation. Before, she worked as a research assistant at the Laboratory for Anthropology of Science and Technology at the Humboldt-University, at the Institute for Research Information and Quality Assurance in Berlin, and at the Centre for Contemporary History in Potsdam.


photo: Ruzana Liburkina
Photo:Ralf Nagel


Ruzana Liburkina, Doctoral Researcher
THESys Graduate Program
Phone: +49 30 2093 66438
E-mail: r.liburkina@hu-berlin.de