Matthew Canfield

Matthew Canfield is a cultural anthropologist with a background in socio-legal studies. He earned a BA in Anthropology and International Studies from the Johns Hopkins University, an MA from the Institute of Law and Society at New York University, and a PhD in Cultural Anthropology from New York University.

Drawing on ethnographic methods, his research examines the law and governance of food security. Located at the intersection of human rights, transnational governance, and agro-environmental politics, he is interested in the ways that social movements are forming new claims and engaging in participatory governance to challenge economic and ecological inequalities.

His book, 'Translating Food Sovereignty: Cultivating Justice in an Age of Transnational Governance', examines how transnational activists based in the United States are mobilising the claim of food sovereignty. The claim of food sovereignty was developed over two decades ago by agrarian movements, particularly from the Global South, to oppose the liberalisation of global food and agricultural markets. It is one of the first global justice claims constituted in relation to networked forms of governance, rather than state law. Using ethnography to analyse how activists mobilise this claim across local, regional, and global arenas, the book demonstrates how food sovereignty activists are developing new networking practices of mobilisation in response to a post-liberal landscape of transnational governance. As one of the first multi-sited empirical analyses of mobilisation in the context of transnational governance, 'Translating Food Sovereignty' reveals the limitations of existing theories of law and social change and sets a new research agenda for scholars of human rights and legal mobilisation in the emerging post-liberal legal landscape.

He is currently working on a new project on data governance and data justice for food security and nutrition in East Africa.

His research has been published in the Law & Society Review, Law, Politics, and Society, Transnational Legal Theory, Public Culture, Development, Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems,  the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology Working Paper Series, the Oxford Handbook of Law & Anthropology, and the Oxford Handbook on Transnational Law. He is an at-large Board Member of the Association for Political and Legal Anthropology and co-edits the Book Reviews section of the Political and Legal Anthropology Review.

Before coming to the Van Vollenhoven Institute, Dr Canfield was an Assistant Professor of Law, Politics, and Society at Drake University and a Max Weber Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Law at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy. He was also a visiting researcher in the Department of Law and Anthropology at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology and the School of Regulation and Global Governance (RegNet) at Australia National University.

Recent publications:

2022. Translating Food Sovereignty: Cultivating Justice in an Age of Transnational Governance. Stanford University Press.

2022. The Ideology of Innovation: Philanthropy and Racial Capitalism. In Global Food Governance. Journal of Peasant Studies.

2019 . Banana Brokers: Communicative Labor, Translocal Translation, and Transnational Law. 31 Public Culture 69–92.