Towards an Actor-Network Systems Methodology (ANSM) for Tackling Food Waste Complexity
Food waste is a global concern. It is a complex problem with intricate relations to global food security, public health, social justice and environmental sustainability. The current food waste studies, though a rapidly expanding domain, is fraught with heterogeneity in focuses and approaches and ambiguity in definition. Whilst environmental scientists and ecological experts are preoccupied with the 'what' and 'how much' of global food waste, social scientists diligently trace the variate trajectories in which food becomes waste. The paradigmatic schism leads to the incongruity between technological, end-of-pipe solutions and holistic, social governance that aims at systemic food waste reduction and prevention.
By combining soft systems approach with the post-humanist perspective, we reckon that food waste is a multi-level, multi-sector, cross-cutting 'wicked problem' in which technological and social processes intertwine with the materiality and actancy of food itself, and various human and non-human actors are interconnected in a non-linear and polycentric manner. In order to address the post-human complexity of food waste, we propose a systems methodology, founded on the monist ontology of actor-network theory, for tracing how various socio-technical, human-non-human connections unfold and give rise to food waste. We then apply the framework to a case study of food waste intervention project in China, underscoring how it has successfully mobilised non-human actancy and reconfigured the actor-network to reduce and prevent food waste.