Standards are an omnipresent yet generally taken-for-granted part of our everyday life (Higgins and Larner, 2010a; Timmermans and Epstein, 2010; Busch, 2011). Until recently, standards within the agri-food sector were typically dismissed (if thought of at all) by social scientists as rather benign, technical tools, primarily of interest to specialists concerned with facilitating markets and trade. Over the past decade, however, this assessment has changed considerably and many agri-food scholars now view standards as a useful entry point for analysing and understanding our social and material world. The degree of interest today is reflected in the fact that our call for papers on private agri-food standards attracted so many high-quality submissions that we are publishing this special issues in two parts. In part, this shift in interest reflects the influence of science studies and its concern with studying ‘mundane’ and taken-for-granted objects and practices (Higgins and Larner, 2010b). Here scholars take inanimate objects seriously, to understand, for example, how non-human actors such as standards allow humans to ‘act at a distance’ (Latour, 1987), thereby ordering relations across time and space. Many agri-food researchers are also concerned with the rise of private food standards developed by global retailers and non-government organizations, including understanding the role that these standards might play in coordinating and governing production and consumption relations within the context of globalization (Giovannucci and Ponte, 2005; Hatanaka et al., 2005; Mutersbaugh, 2005; Tallontire et al., 2011).

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Copyright © 2013, International Sociological Association. This article first appeared in International Journal of Sociology of Agriculture and Food: 20:1 (2013), 1-10.

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