Understanding Barriers to Sustainable Agro-food Businesses in Venice's Lagoon: An Anthropological Approach

Elena Apostoli Cappello


20 April 2018, 2:00 pm


Venice is embedded in a fragile environmental context, which is completely artificial and difficult to maintain, being exposed to severe erosion and rising sea-level. The massive tourist flow, mainly arriving by large ships, exerts socio-economic pressure and heavily contributes to pollution. As a result, the local commercial and residential landscape is significantly altered, shifting the local population to the ‘dormitory town’ of Mestre, and re-orienting the job market towards tourism. Distribution of both food and non-food commodities moves incrementally towards more carbon-intensive large-scale retailers, which compete with small scale production and distribution. Moreover, high unemployment in the lagoon islands and high costs of land triggers depopulation and abandonment of agricultural land. My research analyses the barriers to the development of sustainable businesses in the Venice lagoon that could contribute to climate change mitigation and adaptation. I apply ethnographic methods to investigate local communities' social capital and local actors’ agency in creating spaces to shorten the food distribution chain and reduce carbon emissions, while considering inter-generational conflicts, and the role of the heritage status of the land on the agriculture-focused island of Sant'Erasmo and the fishing-focused island of Burano.


Elena Apostoli Cappello is a Social Anthropologist. She is now postdoctoral researcher at ECLT, in the GreenWin Project (Horizon 2020 program). In the Venice's lagoon area she is now carring out a qualitative, ethnographic fieldwork on multi-stakeholders dynamics in agro-urban systems transformations, identity-related conflicts for heritage and environmental resources, analysis of narratives and strategies for enabling society and environment and socio-economic implication in environment adaptation and mitigation.

Until 2016 she has been working at IIAC - Institute Interdisciplinaire d’Anthropologie du Contemporain, at EHESS (Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Paris) and CNRS (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique). As a "Research In Paris" Program Fellow, she carried out in the Paris urban and peri-urban region an analysis of local food chains, mostly focused on employment-related issues. Previously, as a postdoc at the Neuchatel's University (Switzerland) in the Institute d'Ethnologie she has been teaching for three years in the Socio-anthropology of Development Master, while conducting fieldwork on socio-economical analysis of development for small and medium farming systems, valorization of traditional agro-food products through labels (such as Slow Food e.g.), evaluation of balanced territorial development through employment issues and environmental sustainability in Northern Italy and in Sicily.

Prior to that, she held a PhD degree international double degree in Social Anthropology at Università di Milano Bicocca and EHESS - Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (Paris). Her PhD thesis focuses transnational social movements, grass-roots mobilization for land control in Italy, Spain and Mexico. Her main fieldworks are: Venice's lagoon system; Northern Italy (Veneto Region; Emilia Romagna Region, Liguria Region); Sicily; Spain (Cataluña Region); France (Ile de France Region); Mexico (Isthmic regions).

Last update: 17/12/2018