Monica Marie White, Ph.D.
Garden Griot


My research is driven by the sociological question of how oppressed groups engage in social movements to transform their political and economic conditions.  Within the context of food system activism it asks:  What conditions encourage individuals to examine their relationship to food systems?  How do individuals begin to see themselves as agents intervening in the food system for their own, and their community’s best interest?  What strategies do they engage in order to achieve a healthy, sustainable, community food system?  Inspired by Alice Walker’s quote, “In search of my mother’s garden, I found my own,” my research focuses on the relationship between race, class, gender, the food system and activism and offers a nuanced analysis of the resurgence of agriculture by communities of color, in both urban and rural spaces.  I examine the discourse around food access, identity, the use and reclamation of land, and the development of community food security.   

My current research is community organizing and food system activism around 

urban gardens and agricultural movements using Detroit as a case study.  The city 

of Detroit provides an ideal case study because it represents a vital context for 

understanding how grassroots citizen-based movements transform the political and

economic environment of a postindustrial city. The history of Detroit politics might 

lead one to expect an insurmountable racial divide that limits solidarity and mobilization. However, my research provides findings of a recent resurgence of urban agriculture in 

many urban spaces and its potential to improve the urban landscape. Race continues 

to divide the urban gardening movement as white farmers perceive it as an opportunity

to maximize vacant land for environmental redevelopment while black farmers are 

motivated by access to healthy food. Gender is featured prominently in examining 

women’s participation in agriculture as a demonstration of self-sufficiency and self-

reliance. Despite these differences, my research demonstrates that community 

gardens are spaces of possibility and healing through a shared goal: rebuilding Detroit.  

Ultimately, my research illuminates new politics in the restructuring of food systems in the United States and abroad.  This work contributes to the reshaping of urban cityscapes by extending social-science theory and its application to include communities of color whose work has been marginalized and ignored. These analyses offer practical lessons for overcoming racial divisions and for forging trust relationships between the academy and its neighbors, helping to revitalize and find creative solutions for more vibrant cities. Not only does this work address policy-relevant implications for the City of Detroit, in particular, but for international urban development, more generally. 

Research Interests

Social Movement Theory, Food Systems, Urban/Community Agriculture, Black Feminist Theory, Public Sociology, Environmental Sociology, Critical Race Theory, History of the Black Freedom Movement, Transnational Resistance, Racial and Activist Identity Formation