Gibson, Chris; Dufty, Rae; Phillips, Samantha; and Smith, Heather, 2008, Counter-geographies: The campaign against rationalisation of agricultural research stations in New South Wales, Australia, Journal of Rural Studies, 24(3), 351-366.
This paper discusses an example of community action mounted in a rural region of New South Wales, Australia, in response to proposals by the State Government to rationalise agricultural research stations operated by the Department of Primary Industries. Informed by a Foucaultian understanding of power and the concept of governmentality, neoliberalism is theorised as being the broad governmental context in which rationalisation proposals were put forward. Recent literature drawing on this theoretical perspective has emphasised that neoliberalism is enacted through a relationship of power, and is not monolithic or inevitable. Neoliberalism is always negotiated by those seeking to govern and those who are the object of such governmental actions. This paper analyses how plans to rationalise publicly funded agricultural research stations were opposed by those seeking to keep research facilities open in the case study area. The paper discusses the methods and scope of community action and, drawing on interviews, identifies a series of discourses articulated by campaigners. Non-local actors were depicted as uncaring and insensitive. In contrast, campaigners discussed the emergence of a ‘city-country divide’ in domestic politics; the need for specialist agricultural knowledge given the region’s unique geographical location; and local impacts of an economic, social and emotional nature. Central were discourses of maintaining community, tradition, and continuity in unique local places defined by their climate, biophysical environment and economy. These were ‘counter-geographies’ that sought (successfully, it would transpire) to disrupt the state’s imagined geography of a homogenous and flexible administrative space in which research services could be relocated wherever most efficient. Important too were embodied resistances to the way rural industries and people were subjected. Campaigners refused to accept preferred codes of neoliberal behaviour (particularly mobility and rationality) and instead demanded respect for their careers, families and communities. Important considerations are suggested for further research on impacts and negotiations of neoliberalism. This study particularly highlights the successes—as well as contradictions and limitations—of arguments that construct rural places as socialised, unique and unfairly treated (by governments), in opposition to metropolitan dominance and ‘placeless’ neoliberalism.