Re-figuring the problem of farmer agency in agri-food studies: a translation approach

Vaughan Higgins

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    20 Citations (Scopus)


    This article argues that present theoretical approaches within critical agri-food studies are inadequate for conceptualizing the role of non-humans in the shaping of farmer agency. While both political economy and actor-oriented approaches are significant in drawing attention to the broader social relations that construct and govern farmers as agents, the ordering and disordering influence of non-humans as part of these processes are neglected. Drawing upon a sociology of translation, located within actor network theory, the article explores how the ontological move to recognize non-humans as actants contributes to a re-conceptualization of farmer agency. Through the application of four 'moments' within a translation approach ' problematization, interessement, enrollment, and mobilization ' to a dairy planning workshop in Australia, it is concluded that non-humans are central in two key ways to programs governing the agency of farmers. First, they take the form of material artifacts and forms of inscription that are used by governing agencies to build durable actor networks. These inscriptions represent new ways of reflecting on farming practices and re-defining the scope for farmer action. Second, non-humans can take the form of material agents that, while crucial to the building of actor networks, are not always straightforward to enroll. The article demonstrates that problems enrolling these entities limit the efforts of governing agencies to 'act at a distance' and shape farmer behavior.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)51-62
    Number of pages12
    JournalAgriculture and Human Values
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 2006


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