Reshaping the city through agrarian protest: public space, rural actors, and the cultural implications of international trade agreements

Lay Summary 

The expansive growth of urban areas in the last century means that cities are increasingly sites of political, economic, and social power. Decisions made in capital cities and urban financial centres reverberate far beyond municipal boundaries and have implications for rural and remote areas. Yet, the process through which rural needs are integrated into urban-based decision making, and in particular the ways through which such decisions are resisted, is not well understood.


This project examines rural-urban public space activism in Canada and France, and interrogates the capacity of rural actors to claim a 'right to the city'. It builds on the premise that public space is a key site for the enactment of citizenship rights and considers how farmers deliberately disrupt rural/urban divides by occupying city-centre public spaces with tractors, farm animals, and by dumping produce to protest the Canada-Europe trade agreement (CETA), the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), and other international free-trade accords. Through semi-structured interviews and sensory ethnography techniques, this work will seek commonalities and differences between Canadian and French case studies. It will draw on three specific instances of urban agrarian protest: dairy farmer protests in Rennes (France) in 2015 and in Ottawa (Canada) in 2016; and viticultural protests in Montpellier (France) in 2018. The research will take a 'follow the thing' approach and trace how agrarian protest links urban public spaces in Ottawa (Canada) to rural regions in Quebec and Ontario, and in Montpellier and Rennes (France) to their surrounding countryside.


This work has the following aims:


i) consider how farmers use urban public space to defend rural interests, with attention to the materiality of urban agrarian protests and the sensory and social effect of bringing farm machinery and farm animals into the city;


ii) analyze the role of farmers as transnational political actors, and critically reflect on the complex local-global links formed through organized resistance to international trade accord;


iii) destabilize the often urban-focused analysis of public space by examining how varied identities are imprinted on such sites, and question whether urban agrarian protests result in greater civic participation by rural actors;


iv) critically reflect on the interactions between farmers, city residents, state actors, and agrarian unions during urban protests, and examine the economic and political outcomes of these events.


The project will lead to peer-reviewed publications in English and French; the recruitment of 2 Masters students who will develop their own research topics in relation to the wider project; presentations and special sessions at conferences in Canada and internationally; the training of students in knowledge mobilization techniques; a workshop on urban-rural links in Year 5; and the dissemination of findings to inform public debates on the urban-rural interlinking and cultural implications of international free-trade agreements.


This project will make several contributions to knowledge. First, the study will analyze the interplay between public space, economic restructuring, and theorizations of an urban-rural boundary and challenge established notions of public space as a largely urban issue. Second, this work will critically reflect on the meaning of 'city' in the 'right to the city' literature, and put to question how and by whom the city is produced, occupied, and embodied. Finally, through a comparative research agenda, this work will examine how the urban engagement of farmers in France and in Canada is constructed in response to global economic directives, and reflect on the meeting of local and global in farming protests.


Adapted from

Social Sciences And Humanities Research Council
Newfoundland and Labrador
Urban Agriculture
International Trade
Start date 
1 Jan 2019
End date 
31 Dec 2024