Academic journal article Issues in Informing Science & Information Technology

Communication and Cooperation: Technology Transfer on Australian Family Cotton Farms

Academic journal article Issues in Informing Science & Information Technology

Communication and Cooperation: Technology Transfer on Australian Family Cotton Farms

Article excerpt

Introduction

The cotton industry in Australia is thriving. Cotton is a valuable export with a consistent annual worth above 1.5 billion dollars. Nevertheless, cotton management is becoming increasingly complex with the need to sustain reliable crop production while making the best use of water and soil resources, utilising effective pest and weed management, as well as limiting environmental impacts (Cotton Yearbook, 2003). Innovative technologies such as agricultural computer-based decision support systems (DSS) are considered a key to the adoption of sustainable farming systems (Hearn & Bange, 2002). A review of the relevant literature has determined that despite a growing awareness of computers for farm management, there is concern over the limited demand for agricultural DSS. Further, research indicates that farm women are hesitant to use computers for farm management and that their decision-making roles in rural society are unclear.

A recently conducted pilot study investigates the dynamics of women's use of the agricultural decision support software, CottonLOGIC, on Australian cotton farms. Structuration theory is used as a broad theory to explore the recursive notions of structure and technology as the duality of structure and technology. Essentially, the study explores the consequences of technology diffusion on social structures, represented by Giddens (1984) as signification, domination, and legitimation, and on technology using the structurational model of technology by Orlikowski (1992). Diffusion of innovations theory by Rogers (1995), modified for the Australian environmental context by Vanclay & Lawrence (1995), is used as a lower level theory for analysing technology adoption or non-adoption. The concepts of homophily and heterophily as defined by Rogers (1995) are applied for a better understanding of the roles of peers and professionals in informing cotton growers of scientific knowledge.

In this paper, the data from interviews with rural women in the cotton industry, both farm women and industry consultants, is analysed and interpreted. Structuration and diffusion theories regard the process of communication as essential for information exchange. This paper sets out to evaluate the extent to which effective communication is vital for transferring new research findings to cotton growers and the role of CottonLOGIC in the communication process.

Background

Australian farmers are supplementing traditional practices with innovative strategies in an effort to survive recent economic and environmental crises in the rural sector. These innovative strategies include moving towards a knowledge-based farm management style through the use of technology. Stewart (1997), in a case study which explores the gendering of interactive communication technologies (ICTs) in use on Australian family cotton farms, found that farm women's lack of confidence as controllers of data meant that they often avoided responsibility for utilising information systems for decision-making purposes. This was confirmed by Stubbs, Markham & Straw (1998) in research analysing the use of personal computers (PCs) by farmers for the Australian Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (RIRDC). All the same, there is evidence that many rural women are increasingly aware of the farm management possibilities of computers for decision-making about new and innovative farming practices.

Alston (1995) argues in her study of the lives of Australian farm women that farm roles have developed based on gender stereotypes. Male farmers are participants in the 'more important' public sphere of outdoor work while farm women have become associated with the less visible private sphere of housework and children. This "domestic work has come to be devalued because it is unpaid and not directly geared to agricultural production and the marketplace" (Alston, 1995, p.24). Nevertheless, rural women are acknowledged as having an ongoing interest in profitable agricultural industries and sustainable resource management. …

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