Essay: FoodLab Detroit as a Social Movement Guild?

A brief section from a long paper I wrote for a course I took in Field Research this semester in the Management and Organization department at the business school at UM. The class was wonderful, thanks to great group of classmates, and also in large part due to our really wonderful instructor Wayne Baker.

Each of us chose a field site for study and took detailed field notes over the course of the semester. Wayne read all our notes and gave us weekly feedback. It was so valuable to my development as an ethnographer to have someone else looking over my shoulder, especially someone who was completely “fresh” to my field.

I chose to focus on FoodLab Detroit (formerly the Metro Detroit Good Food Entrepreneurs) — the group of triple-bottom-line food entrepreneurs that I’ve been working with in Detroit. In a lot of ways, it become something of an auto-ethnography… so much so that I titled the second section “Origins of this Me-search Project.”

Table of contents is below for context, then just a very very short section. Interested to hear what folks think.

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The Good Food Movements: Peeking Inside the Lumpy Tent……….. 3

Origins of this “Me”-search Project……….. 5

Journey into Detroit’s Good Food Movement……….. 5

Research and Activism……….. 7

Background on FoodLab Detroit ……….. 9

History and Founding……….. 9

Network boundaries and characteristics……….. 14

FoodLab and Race……….. 15

FoodLab as a social network……….. 18

Networking a Network……….. 18

Mapping the FoodLab network……….. 20

Understanding the periphery……….. 20

Bridging two cliques……….. 22

What’s in a Tie?……….. 26

Information & Advice…………….. 26

Shared Resources…………….. 28

Emotional Support…………….. 30

Social Pressure…………….. 30

All networks not made equal……….. 31

FoodLab as a Social Movement Guild……….. 34

More than the sum of parts……….. 34

Social Movement Organization versus Social Movement Guild……….. 36

Framing within a social movement guild……….. 39

Frame disputes and network structure…………….. 41

A Dispute about Ethics…………….. 43

FoodLab as a movement broker……….. 48

From the parts, to the whole, to the whole in context……….. 48

FoodLab bridges a divided good food field……….. 49

FoodLab and Tertius Iungens…………….. 53

Further Questions……….. 55

Implications……….. 57

For FoodLab……….. 57

For entrepreneurship in Good Food Movements……….. 58

Social Movement Organization versus Social Movement Guild

FoodLab Detroit has some of the markings of an emerging social movement organization (SMO). Snow, Soule and Kriesi (2003) define a social movements as:

Collectivities acting with some degree of organization and continuity outside of institutional or organizational channels for the purpose of challenging or defending extant authority, whether it is institutionally or culturally based, in the group, organization, society, culture, or world order of which they are a part. (P. 7)

Social movement organizations are generally conceived as formal organizations that work to implement the goals of a movement (Caniglia and Carmin 2005). Emerging social movement groups (ESMG) are SMOs who are “in the process of becoming and defining themselves. They are works in progress” (Blee and Currier 2005: 129) Yet FoodLab differs from typical conceptions of social movement organizations (even those in the process of forming) because it does not exist to implement the goals of a particular movement, but rather to propagate the use of a skill or process (good food entrepreneurship – or social entrepreneurship with some food component) in service of multiple goals defined and chosen by individual entrepreneurs. This structure seems to make sense given the fragmented landscape of movements related to good food (see Figure 8 below).

Figure 8: Social Movements Related to Good Food (in Flora 2009)

The  relationship between social movements, social entrepreneurship, and social change is contested. Mair & Marti (2006) suggest that social movement literature may be a useful lens through which to examine the process of social entrepreneurship because “both social movements and social entrepreneurship are concerned with social transformation.” Yet as Starr (2010) and others have pointed out, social entrepreneurship  and social movements are ultimately different models of social change (Martin and Osberg 2007; Thekaekara and Thekaekara 2006).

Critiques of entrepreneurial approaches to transformation within good food movements abound. Food systems academics have noted that purely market-based or entrepreneurial approaches to food systems change may fail to address or may even exacerbate issues such as food security for the most vulnerable and racial and cultural injustice (Allen et. al. 2003). Critics of entrepreneurship as a food movement strategy also suggest that a reliance on market and consumer-driven approaches to change may encourage “individualized, depoliticized behavior” at the expense of attempts at structural change (Donald 2008). Starr (2010) responds to this argument with a catalogue of the strength of the social entrepreneurship approach:

Responding to a political landscape that seems to offer only dead ends, energetic social entrepreneurs are making things happen with resolute utopianism. They are creating space, enabling new experiences, innovating, and providing meaningful jobs for other people who want to work their values. Social entrepreneurship as an approach to social change is personalistic, isolated, and unaccountable, but also experimental, decentralized, agile, and multi-issue. And entrepreneurs know that cultural relevance is necessary to their success, a lesson many social movements refuse to learn. (P. 486)

Notably, FoodLab members have described the network as a way to hold one another accountable to individual missions and shared values through public standards and audits, social pressure, and a shared value of “transparency.”

Rather than a social movement organization, FoodLab could be considered an emerging social movement guild (SMG). The term “guild” implies an association of craftsman organized around a common skill or craft. Guilds incorporate systems of apprenticeships to build skills and competence among members, they often enforce mutually agreed-upon standards of accountability, they may share resources and share a collective identity, yet guild members themselves are independent and may apply have different motivations and ways of applying their shared trade. An SMG, as opposed to a traditional guild, prepares members to use their craft in the service of social change rather than maintaining the status quo: specifically “challenging or defending extant authority, whether it is institutionally or culturally based, in the group, organization, society, culture, or world order of which they are a part” (Snow, Soule, Kriesi 2003: 7).

2 comments

1 Sam Stegeman { 02.29.12 at 11:10 pm }

Hi Jess,
I ‘d love to see the full paper.
I’m enjoying checking out your blog!
Thanks
Sam

2 Jess { 04.14.12 at 7:01 am }

Thanks Sam! I’d have to redact some details before sharing, but will work on it once the semester wraps up. Hope event planning is going well, can’t wait to hear how it all shapes up :)

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