Research INSTITUT-SoMuM ’Wheat, vine, olive: transformations in the practices and representations of a Mediterranean triad’ - Mutations en Méditerranée (MeM) - call for contributions for issue 2 | 2024

"Wheat, vine, olive: transformations in the practices and representations of a Mediterranean triad" - Mutations en Méditerranée (MeM) - call for contributions for issue 2

Mutations en Méditerranée (MeM) is a multidisciplinary digital journal in the Humanities and Social Sciences, created by PhD students at Aix-Marseille University’s Institut Sociétés en Mutation en Méditerranée (SoMuM). It offers a publication space for young researchers. The journal publishes one online issue per year, with open access, and welcomes articles in French and English.

Imagine Herodotus travelling around the Mediterranean today, more than 2400 years after his travels. Would he be surprised to see citrus fruits dotting the horizon? Would he be astonished to be served tomatoes? In 1940, Lucien Febvre retraced the evolution of Mediterranean agriculture from this multi-secular point of view. Perhaps he was dreaming of an ancient Mediterranean made up of wheat, vines and olive trees, when it was already a crossroads of global agricultural circulation. Sharing "the same granaries, the same wine cellars, the same oil mills" (Braudel 1966, p. 229), the Mediterranean has seen the evolution of this triad of agriculture and food, and the transformation of both the practices that surround it and the representations of which it is the object. The dialectical relationship between practices and representations of this triad has evolved under the effect of climatic, demographic, political and technical upheavals that have marked and continue to transform this area. Wheat, vines and olives are thus seen as entry points for the study of transformations in social practices and representations in the Mediterranean, at different spatial and temporal scales of analysis.

This call for papers seeks to extend the reflection based on this Mediterranean triad, along three dimensions: land and the relationship to land, from a productive, food and demographic point of view; appropriation and dispossession of land; artistic practices and historically documented representations and imaginary constructions. These dimensions will demonstrate both the unification and fragmentation of Mediterranean spaces. This call is open to proposals from young researchers of all disciplines; multidisciplinary contributions will be particularly welcome.

Focus 1. Land and relationships with land: production, food and populations

Between food and industrial production and tourism, the paths traced by agricultural areas are plural and adapt to the spatio-temporal context.

From field to plate

Our land is intimately linked to our tables, just as our plates interact with our fields. The geographer Jean Bruhnes once said that to eat is to incorporate a territory (Fumey 2007). But what would happen if, in several decades’ time, we were to eat nothing but products from laboratories? What would our earth be like if we all adopted the "chewing-gum meal" imagined by Roald Dahl in his 1964 novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory?

The environmental mutations that are shaking up our agricultural systems invite us to question our consumption patterns (García-Martín et al. 2021). Conceptualized in the 1950s by Ancel Keys and recognized as a UNESCO heritage site in 2010, the Mediterranean diet is witness to a table to which climate change was not invited. So how do farming systems, aided by technological progress, reconcile this fixed, identity-based conceptualization of the Mediterranean diet with the upheavals brought about by climate change? Is this agricultural, cultural and identity-based heritage being maintained, or are new avenues being explored, even if it means overturning this dietary identity? What are the consequences for spaces, territories and landscapes?

These mutations are accompanied by cultural and ethical transformations that are changing consumption patterns and, retroactively, farming systems and the environment (Didelon 2009). Whether it’s the standardization of consumption patterns induced by globalization, the growing interest in so-called "terroir" products (PDO/AOC) or the replacement of animal proteins by plant proteins, these movements are reinventing the composition of our agricultural spaces (Pitte 2001). This section examines the territorial and landscape expressions and consequences of these changes.

Renewal of territories and their functions

Ecological, economic and social issues, such as the decline of family farming ÜBergeret 2016) and the exodus of young rural people (Castagnone and Termine 2018), are forcing agricultural areas as a whole to adapt or even reconvert. Young people and neo-ruralists are working these lands with new ideas for these spaces, which is not without provoking conflicts with previous generations. What alternatives do they propose for transforming agricultural areas and farming systems? How do local people participate, and how do these different populations coexist?

The promotion of the benefits of the Mediterranean diet has led to an acceleration and even new production of its by-products, such as grape seeds used to treat hypertension (Boskrou 2012). Erosion, industrialization and the growth of factories can nibble away at agrarian spaces, as in Malta, Portugal and Italy (Allaya 1978). To what extent do these new land uses contribute to the renewal of territories and the creation of new social, economic and environmental alternatives?

In order to (re)develop and protect the Mediterranean diet, "heritage" schemes are being set up to guarantee product quality, know-how or farming space (Linck and Romagny 2011). These territories (Gay 2011) are put on the tourist map by promoting local products and new forms of tourist mobility, as is the case in Cap Bon, Tunisia, with the establishment of wine tourism routes (Souissi 2023). How are these developments and attempts at preservation helping to (re)shape agricultural landscapes?

Focus 2. Appropriation and dispossession of land

Growing wheat, vines or olives means investing the land with an agricultural use that depends on the system of ownership attributed to the soil. Whether the soil depends on a state land tenure system or on specific social appropriations, the definition of its use and its users has the reciprocal effect of dispossessing other groups with other practices.

By sanctuarizing the productive use of a plot of land, a public or private authority can put an end to other appropriation regimes (Le Roy 2011). The establishment of a land tenure system in the Mediterranean was one of the major political challenges of colonization. In 1923, Albert Sarrault proposed a plan for the "development of the French colonies", proclaiming the inability of colonized populations to use their land profitably (Costantini 2008). Land was then evaluated in terms of its economic usefulness: the "useful Morocco" of the plains was contrasted by Lyautey with the "useless Morocco of the tribes and mountains" (quoted by Valette et al. 2017, p. 417). Colonization thus transformed land ownership regimes by planting new crops, such as vines in the lower Seybouse in Algeria (Tatar 2013), or intensifying old ones, such as wheat in Morocco. Today, land planning, whether heir to colonial practices or not, and its legal counterpart continue to question the ways in which public action is implemented (Requier-Desjardins et al. 2019) and the reconfigurations of actors, practices and discourses it produces.

The effectiveness of regulating access to agricultural land is a matter of debate. Strong tensions exist between local, state or inter-state appropriations, or between old and new modes of access: land is therefore a (geo)political resource (Blanc 2019). Strong competition for access to Mediterranean land is leading to the fragmentation and closure of agricultural land: in favor of tourist residences, as in Mallorca (Salom 2013), or new peri-urban areas from which smallholders are dispossessed (Minvielle et al. 2013). Land is a subject of conflict, concerning, for example, access to state-owned land in Tunisia (Gana and Taleb 2019), pasture management in Greece (Koutsou et al. 2019) or water distribution in Spain (Salinas Palacios 2019). Land issues therefore question the relationship between ownership and uses (Gueringuer et al. 2017), which are evolving under the effect of technical, economic, social and environmental transformations. Farmers in Lebanon’s Beqaa plain, for example, are switching from wheat to fruit trees, which are more profitable but require more water (Trottier and Antonius 2020), while farmers in Algeria’s eastern Zâb region are taking advantage of advances in irrigation to create new olive groves (Tatar 2013).

This axis invites us to question the interactions between land policies, territories and populations; and also the ways in which the transformation of ownership is changing perceptions, uses and types of exploitation of space.

Focus 3. Practices, social and artistic representations

Wheat, vines and olives have been at the heart of a long-standing political and epistemological appropriation aimed at tracing the foundations of a supposed Mediterranean identity in the image of the physical and racial essentialization of a Homo Mediterraneus imagined by physical anthropology at the end of the 19th century (AS n°1 1896). In a retrospective movement of invention of tradition (Hobsbawm 1983), the Mediterranean was imagined as a "civilization of wheat" (Braudel 1979), "of the olive tree" (Verdié 1990) or "of the olive tree and cereals" (Chazan-Gillig 1993), as evidenced by the numerous allegorical representations borrowing from symbols of the nourishing and fertile land, such as the crown of wheat. The cultural importance of the triad in the Mediterranean is also specifically cultural. The olive tree was a mythical landmark (Amouretti and Comet 1992), while cereals, wine and oil were essential supports for Mediterranean polytheisms and then monotheisms (Brun 2003), as evidenced by the Attic "red figure" cups that place the vine at the center of the representation of the Dionysian cult (Colonna 2011), or the cults dedicated to the goddess Ceres. So, if we accept that art is a way of looking at the world, the evolution of social representations can be seen through the history of art, which enables us to understand cultural mutations and transfers in the Mediterranean basin. For example, the evolution of earthworking techniques is celebrated in 19th-century Western realist paintings.

In another register, pictorial and literary orientalism constructs and sustains the myth of exoticism through picturesque representations of an often fantasized elsewhere (Corredor 1992). The aim is to question this imagined "Mediterraneanness" and relate it to the identification processes (Sayad 1993) of Mediterranean inhabitants (Veauvy 2000). Jean Giono, for example, refused "[...] to see his work annexed to the cultural and literary domain of Provence" (Mény 2018: 16).

Contemporary artistic creation is also a way of experiencing the crises and profound changes our societies are going through. The temporary exhibition "Quand les artistes passent à table. Leurs regards sur l’alimentation" (Ministry of Culture 2017-2020) testifies in particular to artists’ appropriation of food practices in connection with their production and distribution networks. So, what ideas of "Mediterranean culture" does art convey? How does art-science hybridization (design, research-creation, etc.) contribute to the construction of imaginary worlds around issues of social, territorial and cultural transformation in the Mediterranean region? This theme invites reflection on the representational evolution of Mediterranean cultures through artistic practices.


This call for papers is multidisciplinary. The axes are not closed avenues of reflection, provided that the proposals remain within the theme of the issue. The epistemological frameworks and research methodologies can be diverse and varied, using digital or digitized artistic media (photography, images, videos, soundtracks, etc.) as long as they are at the service of scientific observation.

Submission conditions

Submissions must be between 2,500 and 5,000 characters long (including spaces, excluding bibliography). They must include a title, keywords and bibliography. Submissions are accepted in English or French. Please consult the editorial standards.

Proposals should be sent in Word (.docx) format to institut-somum-redaction-mem[at]

Please confirm your status and affiliation in the email.

Provisional timetable:
Deadline for article proposals: Monday, January 8, , 5 p.m.
Results of proposal selection process: mid-January
Deadline for receipt of articles (V1): April 3,
Feedback to authors (V1): mid-May
Online publication of second issue: November

Editorial Committee Issue 2

Andrea Gallinal Arias, PhD candidate in political science, Aix-Marseille University, CNRS, MESOPOLHIS, ED 67
Léna Haziza, doctoral candidate in sociology, Aix-Marseille University, CNRS, MESOPOLHIS, ED 355
Marcos Marinho Fernandes, PhD candidate in History, Aix-Marseille Université, CNRS, TELEMMe, ED 355
Mélissa Mathieu, doctoral candidate in musicology, Aix-Marseille Université, CNRS, PRISM, ED 354
Luca Nelson-Gabin, doctoral candidate in history, Aix-Marseille Université, CNRS, IREMAM, ED 355
Julien Panaget, PhD candidate in geography, Aix-Marseille Université, CNRS, TELEMMe, ED 355


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