Towards an Actor-Network Systems Methodology (ANSM) for Tackling Food Waste Complexity


  • Yiyu Liu China
  • Chenjia XU Center for Systems Science and Systems Management Research, Institute for Science, Technology and Society, South China Normal University, Guangzhou, China.


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.  




Author Biography

Yiyu Liu, China

Associate Professor Yiyu Liu. Assistant Dean of Institute for Science, Technology and Society, Project Director of Center for Systems Science and Systems Management, South China Normal University(SCNU). Director of Chinese Society for Philosophy of Complexity and Systems Science and Chinese Society for Dialectics of Nature. Education background is philosophy of science. Areas Specialization include systems methodology, systems thinking and systems management, philosophy of social science, process thinking and sustainable development. The latest research grant is “Study on the Threshold Effect of Social-Ecological Systems and Its Methodology” (2019), and this is the Project awarded by the National Social Science Fund of China.