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Cultivating science : subtitle the farm-laboratory in practice Steele, Joseph A.

Abstract

This study examines spaces of the English farm in practice, as presented by organic farmers and veterinary surgeons in Dorset and other prominent agricultural spokespersons in England. These interviewees reveal different farming experiences and practices of science, which constitute different configurations of farm space and different networks of farming activity. British agriculture has been changing as targets for food production volumes have been reduced and replaced by regulations, that demand, in particular, a more environmentally astute and sustainable set of farming practices. Organic farming is emblematic of these new initiatives. British agriculture has also been disrupted by disease over the last 15 years, most recently foot and mouth disease, which has influenced farming practices. I have studied 18 organic farms in Dorset in the southwest of England between 1999 and 2001 in order to view endogenous changes as they relate to the contexts outside of the farm premises. By arranging interviews on the farm premises, I have also been able to witness and systematically analyse sciences of food production in action. The analogy of a working 'laboratory' is used to illuminate this science as it is practiced and delivered. In particular, this idea draws on the work of Bruno Latour in science studies. He has showed that the laboratory as a place of science is so important because of the way scale is reversed, and so the distinction of what lies outside and inside the laboratory is blurred by the movements of elements constantly between. I set these ideas in conversation with Michel Foucault's ideas of the 'normalisation' of the individual through processes of surveillance and the workings of 'disciplinary power'. Foucault's ideas help us understand the way the farmer is often made to work in a particular manner. I show that sciences cannot be viewed in isolation from each other and their context, but that they are interlinked and controlled from different places. By combining this critical theoretical conversation with an appreciation of how agriculture is restructuring, I reveal the space of 'the farm' in practice as a product of the interaction of different sciences. I also reveal the merits of engaging with Latour and Foucault in tandem.

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