The 2008 Food Crisis as a Critical Event for the Food Sovereignty and Food Justice Movements

Posted: 1 Aug 2011 Last revised: 21 Apr 2015

See all articles by Noha Shawki

Noha Shawki

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Date Written: 2011


Social movement theorists have examined the impact of critical or focusing events on social movement mobilization. They have argued that these types of events can help increase issue salience, focus public attention on specific issues and causes, and facilitate coalition building among social movement organizations (SMOs). Critical or focusing events can thereby expand the resources as well as the political and tactical opportunities available to social movement participants to press their claims and advance their goals. SMOs, however, vary in their ability to use critical events to promote their agendas, and some SMOs are more adept than others in doing so due to the nature of their organizational structure and the kind of resources that they can mobilize. In other words, organizational variables influence the ability of SMOs to seize the opportunities that critical events create and to use these events to press their claims and policy demands.

This paper applies the relatively small sociological literature on critical events and their significance for social movements to the 2008 food price crisis and the food justice movement in the United States. As a reaction to the 2008 global food price crisis, a diverse group of SMOs formed the US Working Group on the Food Crisis in the spring of 2008. In 2010 the US Food Sovereignty Alliance, a multi-sectoral coalition that grew out of the Working Group, was formed. How did the 2008 food crisis unify the many different groups that established the US Working Group on the Food Crisis? How did different SMOs, focusing on climate change, gender issues and women’s rights, indigenous rights, and hunger and poverty find a common theme and cause in food justice and food sovereignty? How did they form coalitions, bridge their differences, and unify their agendas? These are the questions that I explore in this paper. I draw on the concepts of framing and organizational strength, two of the important concepts in social movement theory, to demonstrate how the member groups of the two coalitions have sought to strengthen the capacity of the coalition, formulate a coherent message, and jointly campaign for change in (international) food and agriculture policy.

The findings of this paper make two contributions to the literature. First, they improve our understanding of the significance of critical events for social movement mobilization, which is still an understudied topic in the social movement literature. Second, they expand our knowledge of the food justice and food sovereignty movements in the United States, both of which are relatively recent movements that have not been fully researched and documented yet.

Suggested Citation

Shawki, Noha, The 2008 Food Crisis as a Critical Event for the Food Sovereignty and Food Justice Movements (2011). APSA 2011 Annual Meeting Paper, Available at SSRN:

Noha Shawki (Contact Author)

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