Cultivating Engagements: Ethnic Minority Migrants, Agriculture, and Environment in the Murray-Darling Basin, Australia



Publication Details

Head, L., Klocker, N., Dun, O. & Aguirre-Bielschowsky, I. (2019). Cultivating Engagements: Ethnic Minority Migrants, Agriculture, and Environment in the Murray-Darling Basin, Australia. Annals of the American Association of Geographers, 109 (6), 1903-1921.


Despite decades of challenge to the Enlightenment dualisms of Western environmental thought, they remain deeply embedded with respect to agriculture because of the ways in which cultivation is implicated in humanity's move out of nature and into culture. In contrast, in non-Western contexts, scholars have more commonly discussed cultivation as a close engagement between humans and the more-than-human world. Emergent research examines how environmental engagements change in the encounters of migration from Majority to Minority Worlds, providing new ideas and practices for sustainable futures. We contribute to these debates with a study in the Sunraysia region of Australia's Murray-Darling Basin, an area facing significant climate change impacts. We examine environmental engagements of ethnic minority migrants (Burundian, Hazara, Tongan, Vietnamese, and Italian) alongside Anglo-Australian residents. Findings identify both differences and connections between these groups and show complex interweavings of environmental engagement, ethnic background, migration history, and generational change. Groups perceive and respond to the local environment differently and in the context of their premigration experience, challenging dominant (Minority World) perceptions of environment as a freestanding and separate entity. The strongest cross-cutting theme is valuing environment for its food provision, associated with positive emotions and an ethic of care. Participants relate to food gardens rather than farms as places of pleasure and close engagement. Australian farms are understood as places where different rules apply and harmful chemicals must be used. Food gardens are an important site of cross-cultural encounter and experiment that can move environmental scholarship forward in the search for alternative futures. Key Words: agriculture, cultivation, migration, settler colonialism.

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