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In recent years, a number of dynamic aspects of food supply chains have attracted great interest among social scientists investigating rural restructuring and change. These include: the expansion of organic agriculture; the development of new value added enterprises at farm level and the revitalisation of traditional and new-old artisanal production practices; the expansion from a low base of the market share of 'alternative' short supply chains, such as farmers' markets; and the so-called quality turn, riding on the heels of another turn in rural social research - the consumption turn. All of these changes come together in a vision of alternative agro food networks (AAFNs) that has been built around empirical and theoretical work from a number of predominantly European social researchers, centred on Wageningen, but conducted in a number of countries in Europe. These and other associated changes in the composition of farm-based economic activity are seen to be constitutive of a new paradigm of rural development comprising an alternative network of producers, consumers and other actors in relation to the mainstream agro-food system (Van der Ploeg et al. 2000; Van der Ploeg and Renting 2004; Renting et al. 2003). The theorisation surrounding this work on AAFNs has been sharply criticised by Goodman (2004). He challenges the vision of certain European social scientists of an alternative food sector rising like a phoenix from the ashes of the commodity-based food system to constitute a new paradigm of rural development. He notes their view of AAFNs as: 'innovative precursors of paradigm change, of a more endogenous, territorialized and ecologically embedded successor to the allegedly crisis-ridden modernisation model of conventional industrialised agriculture.' (Goodman 2004:6) In particular, he challenges the binary categorisation into alternative and mainstream and is deeply sceptical as to the existence of a new paradigm while, at the same time, highly cognisant of dynamic changes within the agro-food sector. This paper is motivated by a desire to explore the extent to which different theories can help interpret and explain some of the most dynamic areas of agro-food systems that belong neither in the mainstream food supply chains and networks, nor in the alternative food supply networks. We review two areas where we argue that hybridity is evident in food supply chains and networks, and draw conclusions as to the research needs in a field where too often dualistic interpretations have prevailed.


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