Year

1998

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Abstract

This thesis is an exploration of the social, technical and economic dynamics of the organic agriculture movement in Australia. It is driven by the following question: If organic agriculture seems to be a solution to some of the sustainability dilemmas of modern industrial agriculture, as many researchers are suggesting, what are the reasons for the dismally low mainstream utilisation of organic agriculture technologies and techniques, as well as its poor standing in research and bureaucratic circles?

Current sustainability debates in agriculture and the food industry are outlined as an introduction to the dilemmas faced by food and fibre production systems in the modern world. The "growth paradigm" which modern agriculture is set upon is exhibiting technical and physical anomalies that require attention. Also explored are issues of regulation of producer activities as well as the containment, management and construction of risk in modern economies. While there is growing acknowledgement of the problems associated with the above, directions for practical change are less clear.

Social aspects of sustainability are becoming increasingly recognised as essential elements in moves toward more sustainable societies. A number of theoretical perspectives on technology diffusion are outlined, as are practical examples which recognise the role of the social in technological change, namely Landcare and examples of Common Pool Resource sharing. Organic agriculture is assessed for its sustainability merits - from technical, political and social perspectives.

The global scene of organic agriculture and its associated food industry is then developed as a means of looking at how international bodies and trends interact with local or national bodies. From this global picture, focus is placed on the Australian scene, exploring the nature of the industry in this country, the main players and the specific hurdles and challenges it faces as a movement and as an industry. Finally, there is reflection on a number of proposed pathways out of these dilemmas and challenges that would see organic ideas and technologies being enlisted more widely.

The field research for this thesis was participant-observation based. Theoretically, the thesis is informed by a mixture of both Actor Network Theory and political economy approaches.

I conclude by arguing that, as with agricultural science itself, there is a danger in the over-reliance upon any one paradigmatic framework of research and practice. It would be optimal to nurture diverse research approaches and technical practices - allowing a more dynamic and flexible framework within which to remain on paths toward sustainability. This means embracing big and small, specialist and generalist, reductive and holistic research agendas together, such that their combined powers and benefits deliver a resilient technical and knowledge base from which to react to, and modify, the ever changing environments in which we find ourselves enmeshed.

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