In exploring the social dynamics of agrofood movements in Ecuador as examples of self-organization (i.e., locally distributed and resolved development), this article departs from a preoccupation with innovation by means of design and the use of scaling as a metaphor for describing research contributions in agriculture and food. The case material highlights that much development is contingent, unpredictable, and unmanageable as well as unbound to fixed spaces or places. In their study of people’s daily practice, the authors do not find clear boundaries between dichotomies of internal–external, lay–expert, traditional–modern, or local–global organization, but heterogeneous blends of each. For the purposes of sustainable development, this highlights the need for attention to be paid to relationships (social, material, and biological), adaptation (the capacity to innovate), and responsibility (adherence to norms of sustainability). Far from romanticizing self-organization, the authors acknowledge that people and their institutions share varying degrees of complicity for the goods as well as the bads of their economic activity, such as mass soil degradation, agrobiodiversity loss, and poisoning by pesticides. Nevertheless, even under highly difficult conditions, certain actors effectively bypass the limitations of formal institutions in forging a socio-technical course of action (i.e., policy) for relatively healthy living and being. As such, the authors have come to appreciate self-organization as a neglected, if paradoxical, resource for policy transition towards more sustainable agriculture and food.
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