An Agrarian Imaginary in Urban Life: Cultivating Virtues and Vices Through a Conflicted History



This paper explores the influence and use of agrarian thought on collective understandings of food practices as sources of ethical and communal value in urban contexts. A primary proponent of agrarian thought that this paper engages is Paul Thompson and his exceptional book, The Agrarian Vision. Thompson aims to use agrarian ideals of agriculture and communal life to rethink current issues of sustainability and environmental ethics. However, Thompson perceives the current cultural mood as hostile to agrarian virtue. There are two related claims of this paper. The first argues that contrary to Thompson’s perception of hostility, agrarian thought is popularly and commercially mobilized among urban populations. To establish this claim I extend Charles Taylor’s notion of a social imaginary and suggest that urban agriculture can be theorized as an agrarian imaginary. Entwined with the first claim is the second, that proponents selectively use agrarian history to overemphasis a narrative of virtue while ignoring or marginalizing historical practices of agrarian violence, exclusion and dispossession. I do not discount or deny the significance of agrarian virtue. By situating agrarian thought within a clearer virtue ethics framework and acknowledging potential manifestation of agrarian vice, I suggest that the idea of agrarian virtue is strengthened.


Agrarian Social imaginary Urban agriculture Virtue Vice Charles Taylor 



I am grateful to Donald Thompson and Leland Glenna for their insightful comments and helpful suggestions on an earlier draft of this paper. I would also like to thank the anonymous reviewers for providing substantive feedback and generous recommendations.


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for Values, Ethics and the Law in MedicineThe University of SydneySydneyAustralia

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