Sociology of agriculture and food (SAF) is one of the most visible substantive subareas in Rural Sociology and a growing subarea in Sociology. While the studying of agriculture has always been a part of Rural Sociology, it was in the 1970s that the process that led to a clear and formal distinction between Rural Sociology and SAF began. SAF grew stronger in the 1980s and became established in the 1990s. This paper reviews salient theoretical and historical events that engendered the establishment and growth of SAF as a separate substantive area from Rural Sociology. Additionally, it reviews its development in the United States in relation to a movement that has been global since its onset. In particular, the paper addresses the ways in which SAF developed at the University of Missouri-Columbia under the intellectual leadership of William Heffernan. Heffernan’s “radical” reading of, and methodological approach to, the evolution of agriculture and food are compared with other popular views of, and approaches to, SAF such as the Marxist and the Constructionist. It is argued that Heffernan’s approach is grounded in the American theoretical tradition of Pragmatic Democracy exemplified by the classical work of John Dewey. Research on SAF produced at the University of Missouri-Columbia became highly visible as SAF reached its maturity in the mid-1990s. Heffernan’s intellectual contribution remains most influential in current salient debates within SAF.

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