Embeddedness and local food systems: Notes on two types of direct agricultural market

C. Clare Hinrichs

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

951 Scopus citations


Direct agricultural markets, predicated on face-to-face ties between producers and consumers, are often seen as central components of local food systems. Activists and academic analysts often assume that trust and social connection characterize direct agricultural markets, distinguishing local food systems from the 'global food system'. This article examines that premise about direct agricultural markets, using the concept of social embeddedness from economic sociology to analyze the interplay of the economic and the social. Specifically, it draws on Block's (1990) elaboration of the concepts of marketness and instrumentalism to qualify the concept of social embeddedness. Taken together, and augmented by consideration of how they relate to power and privilege, these concepts provide an analytical framework that more accurately describes the social relations of two types of direct agricultural markets - the farmers' market and community supported agriculture. In providing an alternative market, farmers' markets create a context for closer social ties between farmers and consumers, but remain fundamentally rooted in commodity relations. In attempting to construct an alternative to the market, as reflected in an explicit emphasis on community and in the distinctive 'share' relationship, community supported agriculture moves closer towards the decommodification of food. Nonetheless, in both types of direct markets, tensions between embeddedness, on the one hand, and marketness and instrumentalism, on the other, suggest how power and priviledge may sometimes rest more with educated, middle-class consumers than with farmers or less-advantaged consumers. Recognizing how marketness and instrumentalism complicate social embeddedness is critical for understanding the viability, development and prospects of local food systems. (C) 2000 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)295-303
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Rural Studies
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 2000

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Development
  • Sociology and Political Science


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