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 global 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.
He is currently completing a book project that examines how transnational activists mobilize claims for “food sovereignty” and the right to food. Translating Food Sovereignty: Constructing Transnational Governance from Below is based on five years of multi-sited ethnographic research with transnational food sovereignty activists based in the United States. The claim of food sovereignty was developed over two decades ago by agrarian movements, particularly from the Global South, to oppose the liberalization 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 analyze how activists mobilize this claim across local, regional, and global arenas, the book demonstrates how food sovereignty activists are developing new networking practices of mobilization in response to a post-liberal landscape of transnational governance. As one of the first multi-sited empirical analyses of mobilization 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 mobilization in an emergent post-liberal legal landscape.
His research has been published in the Law & Society Review, Law, Politics, and Society, Transnational Legal Theory, Public Culture, the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology Working Paper Series, the Oxford Handbook of Law & Anthropology, and the Oxford Handbook on Transnational Law. He also sits on the Editorial Board of the Political and Legal Anthropology Review and is an at-large Board Member of the Association for Political and Legal Anthropology.
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.