Academic journal article Rural Society

Styles, Parables and Scripts: Diversity and Conformity in Australian and Finnish Agriculture

Academic journal article Rural Society

Styles, Parables and Scripts: Diversity and Conformity in Australian and Finnish Agriculture

Article excerpt


Styles of farming (van der Ploeg, 1990; 1994; 1995; 2003), parables (Howden & Vanclay, 2000; Vanclay, Howden, Mesiti & Glyde 2006) and scripts (Silvasti, 2001; 2003a; 2003b) are different ways of looking at how farmers construct their identity and develop their ideas about farming and the farm. While the parables approach of Howden and Vanclay (2000) was based on a farming styles approach, Silvasti's application of cultural scripts to farming was novel, originating from a conceptually different perspective. Together, they are the major contemporary theoretical offerings for conceptualising heterogeneity (diversity) and homogeneity (conformity), continuity (tradition) and change in farming (see Buttel, 1994).

Farming styles theory as elaborated by van der Ploeg and colleagues (e.g. Commandeur, 2003; Leeuwis, 1993; van der Ploeg & Long, 1994) is an attempt to explain diversity amongst farmers in a particular location and commodity. The basis of their approach is that heterogeneity in agriculture is not random, nor just a matter of differences in the physical characteristics of the land, nor of the different (structural) factors affecting farmers. Rather, it is a reflection of social differences between farmers, particularly the differing worldviews and strategies (and their associated rationales) for surviving in a changing environment. Diversity can be explained by the manifestation of a range of farming styles, with farming practice being the physical expression of a style (Vanclay, Mesiti & Howden, 1998). For a particular commodity in a particular region, the range of styles can be identified through social research (Howden, Vanclay, Lemede & Kent 1998; Mesiti & Vanclay, 2006).

Starting their fieldwork in Australia with a farming styles approach, Howden (2001) and Howden and Vanclay (2000) discovered the functioning of 'parables' in farmers' talk They concluded that styles of farming exist at a range of levels, and contrary to van der Ploeg, suggest that styles of farming are heuristic rather than empirical (Vanclay et al., 2006). They suggest that one of the levels of farming style is as a repertoire of 'parables' or normative stories about farming. These parables are an important part of farmers' talk, and inform farming practice.

Silvasti (2001; 2003a; 2003b), in Finland, argued that a farmer's way of life and identity is influenced by a number of "cultural scripts", with the most important script being "continuity of the family farm", something strongly supported by other rural sociologists including Salamon (1992), Segalen (1983) and de Haan (1994). Other major scripts concern the gendered division of labour, and farmers' relationships with the land, nature and environment.

The purpose of this paper is to compare and contrast the three approaches, particularly concentrating onparables (which are based on the farming styles tradition) and cultural scripts. Although they are quite different (as will be evident later), the concepts of parable and script are complementary. Together, they explain the powerful normative dimensions that govern farming. The strength of this socio-cultural basis of farming has major implications for conceptualising the process of change in farming and is a significant factor in explaining why traditionality persists.

Styles of farming

While the styles of farming approach of van der Ploeg has changed over time (see Commandeur, 2003; Vanclay et al., 2006), the essential idea is that widiin a specific farming community there is a set of discrete styles (strategies of farming) of which farmers are acutely aware, and from which they actively choose to guide their management practices. By identifying with a style and being part of the style itself, farmers contribute to the evolution and reproduction of that style over time. The styles are created through sociocultural processes and as a response to structural forces (e.g. …

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