Social Structural Location and Vocabularies of Participation: Fostering a Collective Identity in Urban Agriculture Activism


  • I am grateful to Laura Enríquez for offering important guidance and direction throughout the development of this project and for her countless revisions without which this article would not have evolved as it did. Many thanks to Raka Ray and Kim Voss for providing useful feedback on earlier drafts and to Daniel Kluttz for his valuable insights, which greatly improved the article. I also thank the editor and two anonymous reviewers at Rural Sociology for their helpful comments. Please direct correspondence to H. C. Lyson, Department of Sociology, University of California, Berkeley, 410 Barrows Hall, Berkeley, CA 94720; e-mail:


Contextualized within the visible inequality that permeates its local food landscape and the broader elitist food culture of California's San Francisco Bay Area, Oakland's urban agriculture movement comprises actors with rich vocabularies of motive for participation. Drawing from 25 in-depth interviews with movement activists, I uncover a racial and social class homogeneity among participants that contributes to the formation of a collective identity but also limits the movement's outcomes in important ways. This research draws from Bourdieu's theory of class distinction and social movement theories of collective identity formation to contribute to literature on the reproduction of class and racial privilege in alternative food activism. I find that narratives for movement involvement converge on three discourses: possession of education-derived knowledge to contend with the agroindustrial complex, the conflation of the creation of community through urban food growing with inclusivity, and a missionary-like desire to educate others as to the benefits of growing their own food. I argue that the movement could benefit from a more diverse repertoire of action generated from a greater integration of racially and economically diverse actors working together to reorient the food system toward local food production alternatives.