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Collective agency, non-human causality and environmental social movements

A case study of the Australian ‘landcare movement’
Stewart Lockie
Centre for Social Science Research, Central Queensland University

Abstract
This article explores the implications for social movement theory of recent work in the sociology of scientific knowledge (SSK) that explicitly rejects dualisms between society and nature, structure and agency, and macro and micro-levels of analysis. In doing so it argues that SSK offers: (1) a theoretically useful definition of collective agency as an achievement of interaction; that is (2) sensitive to the influence of both humans and non-humans in the networks of the social; and (3) provides practical conceptual tools with which to analyse dynamics of power and agency in the ordering of networks. Applying this framework to a case study of the Australian ‘landcare movement’ it is argued that a range of practices have been used to enact ‘action at a distance’ over Australian farmers and to ‘order’ agricultural practices in ways that are consistent with corporate interests while minimizing opposition from conservation organizations otherwise highly critical of chemical agriculture. Keywords: environmentalism, landcare, social movements, sociology of scientific knowledge

The motivation for this article stems from a belief that the ways in which social movements are conceptualized in both popular and academic discourses are of tremendous political and environmental significance. It will be obvious to most readers that the notion of ‘the environment movement’
Journal of Sociology © 2004 The Australian Sociological Association, Volume 40(1): 41–58 DOI:10.1177/1440783304040452 www.sagepublications.com

Pinderhughes. social movement theory has allowed sociologists to engage with contemporary environmentalism while remaining firmly embedded in one of the most basic assumptions of sociology. contradictions within the capitalist mode of production. Rather. 1998). its particular relevance here derives from the explicit attempt that is made to . Novotny. 1998. it is to explore the relevance of recent work in the sociology of scientific knowledge (SSK). As Goodman (1999) argues. environmental racism. Indeed. Sutton. the inability of existing political institutions to adapt to change. the obvious conceptual move here is to embrace a more differentiated and contingent understanding of movements. The environment figures within these explanations as a passive entity on to which human action and conflict are superimposed. 1998. 1996. 1999). Faber. or actor-network theory. 1998. Pepper. to abandon heroic accounts of the environment movement in favour of more localized explorations of the many environment movements. In the wake of postmodern social theory. newly emerging political opportunities and individual motivations. Social movements have been conceptualized in terms of social processes and causes ranging through macro-social structural change. food safety and traditional intellectual property rights (Agarwal. however.42 Journal of Sociology 40(1) is used just as frequently to stereotype and dismiss environmental activists as extremists and outsiders as it is to rally would-be activists around a sense of common purpose and identity. The question is. 1999. It is not the intention of this article either to dismiss social movement theory or to develop a new theory of social movements. 1998. 1992. that ‘social facts’ should always be explained by other ‘social facts’ (Durkheim. does this take us far enough? Does an abandonment of grand narratives of universalistic movements provide us. a sociology that fails to problematize the Cartesian dualism between society and nature is likely to be a sociology that is increasingly irrelevant to biopolitical struggle. as the overt focus of environmental politics moves beyond ‘wilderness’ preservation and pollution prevention (Di Chiro. This ontological distinction. between human society as the centre of agency and nature as the ‘other’ is fundamentally at odds with the biopolitics of contemporary environmental conflict (Goodman. 1938). to our understanding of those social phenomena recognized in popular and academic discourses as social movements. 1984) to embrace ideas such as environmental justice. While SSK does not represent the only sociological attempt other than social movement theory to incorporate nature within social theory. with the tools and insights to engage with contemporary environmental politics? As arguably the most prominent sociological response to environmentalism. as sociologists. 1999). livelihood preservation. conflict over access to resources. Low and Gleeson. Biopolitical campaigns on issues ranging from environmental justice to genetic engineering have promoted globally the inseparability and coevolution of the human and non-human (Goodman. such a move seems essential. Shiva.

farm and catchment planning. and a belief that ownership conveys the right to do as one pleases on one’s own property (Reeve. These . Martin. state and federal governments (Toyne and Farley. 1997).Lockie: The Australian ‘landcare movement’ 43 dissolve society–nature dualisms. and presages significant contestation and change in the socio-environmental networks of rural Australia. However. a federal government programme initiated in 1989 in response to a proposal from the National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) and the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) for a national land management programme that recognized what was seen as the importance of self-help action supported by local community groups and local. 2001). Curtis and De Lacy. 1998). Government support was targeted towards activities considered likely to stimulate further spending in the non-government sectors rather than towards the provision of either universal subsidies or public goods. ‘agency’ and ‘structure’. including government. The principal thrust of the NLP was the promotion and support of a national network of community landcare groups based on localized watersheds or neighbourhoods. with over a third of all farm businesses represented in one of over 4000 groups (Mues et al. SSK also calls into question dichotomies between ‘micro’ and ‘macro’-levels of social action. This exploration will be contextualized within a case study of the Australian ‘landcare movement’. This represents profound cultural change in terms of the willingness of Australian farmers to publicly acknowledge the extent of environmental degradation and to expose their management practices to the scrutiny of peers (Lockie. 1999a. 1998). can tell anybody else what to do) (Lockie. Such discourses have been fundamental to the enrolment of farmers who have long traditions of suspicion towards government programmes. Landcare groups themselves consequently tended to focus their activities on education. Participation in landcare groups has exceeded all expectations. 1994. tree planting. 1997). Background: the development of the ‘landcare movement’ There are many ways in which ‘landcare’ can be defined. a movement that both fails to comply with many of the features of social movements and conditions for mobilization identified in the social movement literature. Central to the discourses that circulate around ‘landcare’ are notions of inclusivity (anyone can take part) and autonomy (nobody. and demonstrations and trials of new practices (Campbell. 1997). Not only does this raise the prospect of engaging more directly with the biopolitical struggle of contemporary environmental movements. the most straightforward being in terms of the National Landcare Program (NLP). antagonism towards conservation organizations (Morrisey and Lawrence. it also has major implications for the attribution of agency to a collective subject and conceptualization of collective action. and so on.. 1989).

It is hard to be critical of such positive social change and. According to former National Landcare Facilitator. Martin. schools and so on (Lockie. while the assemblage of people and institutions involved are referred to in popular discourse as the ‘landcare movement’. social movement theory may offer both theoretical and practical insight into the mobilization of people around the ‘landcare movement’ irrespective of how divergent its objects of concern are from other environmental movements. 2000. At face value. landcare is part of a global shift away from government regulation and towards participatory democracy. Collective behaviour Examination of social movements as a form of collective behaviour can be broken down into two distinct approaches. But ‘landcare’ has come to mean many things besides the NLP and formal landcare groups. 1997c). Former NFF Executive Director Rick Farley (1994) argues that not only does the ‘landcare movement’ extend beyond the boundaries of the NLP. 1997). Della Porta and Diani (1999) identify four dominant theoretical perspectives in social movement research that will be outlined in this section. ‘landcare’ has achieved almost universal political support. 1992) have been accommodated through devolution of funding to regional catchment management groups (Lockie.44 Journal of Sociology 40(1) discourses have also been fundamental to the enrolment of many groups otherwise excluded from farming networks such as women. structural-functionalism and . therefore. 1997b). before turning to some recent criticisms and attempts at synthesis across these perspectives. The terminology of the ‘landcare movement’ clearly implies that something is going on that extends beyond the formalized institutions of the NLP. townspeople. Criticisms that discourses of participatory democracy and the landcare movement overstate the degree to which governments have historically intervened in rural environmental management and obscure ongoing power relations have been relatively ignored (Lockie. but neither governments nor farming organizations fully appreciate what it is they have helped to create. not surprisingly. Clearly. Criticisms that government agencies have used the terminology of the ‘landcare movement’ to redefine their own activities under a more politically fashionable banner and to channel funds away from community groups and on-ground works (Lockie. Helen Alexander (1995). small landholders. there is more at stake here than a matter of definition. The term ‘landcare’ has come to embrace almost anything related to the idea of sustainable natural resource management. Contemporary social movement theory The objects of concern to social movement theory are the generalizations that can be drawn across social movements.

1999). At times of rapid change. that adherents to this perspective tend to ignore the detailed strategy of social movements by focusing on unusual events. however. symbolic interactionists have emphasized the actual activities undertaken collectively to produce new norms and solidarities. Resource mobilization The resource mobilization perspective focuses analysis on the processes through which resources for collective action are mobilized. however. pays insufficient attention to the organizational potential of most dispossessed groups. Taking movements as engines of change in the normal functioning of society. Political process The political process perspective focuses on the relationship between protest-based social movements and institutionalized political actors (Della Porta and Diani. the complexity of their networks. However. and over-emphasizes the rationality of collective action while ignoring emotional stimuli. 1999). Features of the ‘political opportunity structure’ influencing the mobilization and success of movements include: the relative . Della Porta and Diani (1999) argue. and the sophistication of their political action all suggest that they are anything but short-term adaptive mechanisms (Della Porta and Diani. 1990). Functionalists have interpreted social movements as examples of crisis behaviour. short-term responses to social change that are likely to dissipate as new equilibria develop. it is necessary also to examine the conditions under which discontent may be transformed into political action/mobilization. create and use solidarity networks. weigh up the costs and benefits of organization and strategic interaction before committing themselves to collective action. The ability of activists to access resources. Participants. 1999). the longevity of contemporary social movements. share incentives and achieve consensus has all been found to influence the type and extent of mobilization. it is argued. 1999). It argues that it is not enough to identify structural crises or conflicts from which social movements emerge. this approach remains indifferent to structural sources of conflict (the ‘why’ of mobilization according to Scott. social movements reflect both the inability of existing sub-systems to absorb tensions and a collective search for new beliefs on which to found solidarity. According to Della Porta and Diani (1999). it is argued. conceptualizing these as an extension of conventional forms of political action (Della Porta and Diani.Lockie: The Australian ‘landcare movement’ 45 symbolic interactionism (Della Porta and Diani. organize discontent. reduce the costs of action. Symbolic production and collective identity are seen as essential components of collective behaviour that challenge the existing social order through various forms of non-conformity. and can be descriptive without accounting for what they identify as the structural origins of conflicts.

according to Della Porta and Diani (1999). ignorance of the structural origins of protest. NSMs resisted the intrusion of the state and the market into the social and personal. 1999: 12–13). 1985. and their advocacy of decentralized and participatory organizational structures and interpersonal solidarity (Offe. The search for the source of conflict resulted in the treatment of potentially coincidental common features among movements as absolutes (Della Porta and Diani. 1999). Scott. The weaknesses identified in this approach by Della Porta and Diani (1999) include its extremely narrow conceptualization of the realm of politics. 1999: 10) has shown social movements to be anything but marginal political actors. Habermas. 1990). NSM theorists have sought to identify the central conflict characterizing the emerging ‘postindustrial’.46 Journal of Sociology 40(1) openness or closedness of political systems. thus managed to attribute importance to the actor while identifying structural sources of conflict. women’s and peace movements – had historical antecedents preceding their emergence as mass movements in the 1960s and 1970s. ‘post-Fordist’. electoral stability or instability. its related neglect of cultural innovation. 1990) and a failure to adapt to the increasing global importance of identity politics (Lentin. (2) their focus. ‘technocratic’ or ‘programmed’ society (see also Scott. and (3) a self-limiting radicalism that abandoned revolutionary change in favour of structural reform to preserve autonomous spaces (see Cohen. and over-rationalization. power and decision-making. on nonmaterial goals. something of a consensus has emerged among social movement . Synthetic approaches to social movement theory McAdam et al. 1985). NSM theory. (1996) argue that despite the diversity of perspectives outlined above. availability of allies.. and between ‘less conventional forms of action and institutionalized systems of interest representation’ (Della Porta and Diani. seeking to defend individual identity against the ‘manipulation of the system’ (Della Porta and Diani. The examination of interactions between new and established political actors. The institutional conditions regulating agenda-setting and decision-making. NSM analysis focused on the challenge of NSMs to conventional representative democracy and bureaucratization. Although each of those movements that were commonly grouped together within NSMs – environment. their status as ‘new’ social movements was justified: (1) by their increasing importance as sources of innovation and change. New Social Movements (NSMs) Reflecting its origins in neo-Marxist critical theory. 1999. in contrast with old social movements. and tolerance of protest by elites (see also McAdam et al. but contributed little to understanding how conflict is translated into action. the functional division of power and geographical decentralization have also been found to influence political opportunity. 1981). 1996).

the comparative method that is advocated for this analysis is guilty of the same political reductionism with which Della Porta and Diani (1999) charge the political process perspective. (Della Porta and Diani. they argue that social conflict arises from: . (Della Porta and Diani. Social movement research must study the relationships between these factors because. Unfortunately. access to media and cultural impact) are all crucial to the emergence and development of social movements. 1999). (2) based on shared beliefs and solidarity. which mobilise out of (3) conflictual issues. the interaction between structural tensions and the emergence of a collective subject which can see itself as the bearer of certain values and interests. Smith. 1995.. Embracing a dualistic conception of agency and structure. By focusing on the interaction between social movements and established political institutions McAdam et al. Nor can they be said to answer the question of how actors come to define a collective identity and undertake the collective action needed to fill the gap between ‘objective’ conditions and ‘subjective’ motivations. A broader understanding of social movements. 1999: 87) Structural conditions are held to exist independently of collective subjects and the definitions of conflicts. (2) mobilizing structures (in terms of collective vehicles for action such as movement organizations). 1992) Despite this emphasis on networks and action. Della Porta and Diani (1999) focus their analysis of specific movements on the structural analysis of macro-level contradictions and conflicts (the ‘why’ of mobilization). they also reduce it to the interactions of those agencies with formalized social movement organizations (see also Meyer and Tarrow. may also emerge from a synthesis of the various theoretical perspectives. 1999: 16. according to Della Porta and Diani (1999). see also Diani. and define its adversaries on the basis of these. through (4) the frequent use of various forms of protest. they will not lead to anything in the absence of organization and shared definitions of the situation among actors. while political opportunities are a necessary prerequisite to action. values and interests around which they mobilize. Structural tensions are attributed a causal role in the emergence of movements that calls into question the extent to which social innovation and change can be attributed to movements themselves. 1996) criticizes this dualistic approach by arguing that neither structural preconditions for action nor individual motivations can be said to lead directly to collective action.. rather than to the conditions that foster them. and (3) framing processes (in terms of the construction of issues. 1998. not only narrow the scope of politics and conflict to that engaged in by centralized state agencies. Melucci (1985. Unless greater clarity can be . They define social movements as: (1) informal networks. and micro and macro-levels of analysis.Lockie: The Australian ‘landcare movement’ 47 theorists that: (1) political opportunities.

as Melucci (1995) argues. Further. ends and opportunities and constraints for action while pursuing the relationships that make sense of this collective endeavour. The first relates to the question of what it means to attribute agency to a collective subject while avoiding. ‘expressive’ and ‘instrumental’ that rids them of their dualistic. The unity of a social movement is thus a hard-won achievement. he argues. it fails to satisfy the definition of social movements offered by Della Porta and Diani (1999) on the basis of their synthesis of social movement theory. Before exploring the potential contribution of SSK to these challenges this article will examine some of the implications for landcare that may be drawn from the social movement literature. conceiving of collective identity as an achievement of interaction within solidarity networks requires a re-thinking of concepts like ‘state’ and ‘civil society’. Identity and action are collectively constructed. The analytical dualisms that dominate social movement theory leave us with two fundamental problems. it is a result to be explained. structuralism and voluntarism. 1991). Landcare has clear institutional antecedents and is more characterized by consensus and partnership than by conflict and protest. While this makes the application of explanatory theories problematic (since one cannot explain a phenomenon without being quite . Melucci argues that part of the solution is to rethink the concept of collective identity as a process through which collectives are defined. Melucci does not provide the analytical tools with which to do this. This construction takes place through interaction. not a starting point for evidence of structural change. ‘private’ and ‘public’. Social movement theory and the ‘landcare movement’ The most obvious thing to say about ‘landcare’ is that despite being identified in popular discourse as a movement. his empirical location of the conflicts in which solidarity networks are engaged at different levels within a highly differentiated social system implicitly holding to a dualism between micro and macrolevels of the social. The second relates to the ability of social movement theory to account for empirical changes in the action orientations and goals of contemporary social movements where these increasingly call into question the ontological separation of society and nature. negotiation and conflict with opposing viewpoints (see also Touraine. monolithic and structuralist overtones (Melucci. However.48 Journal of Sociology 40(1) provided over what it means to attribute agency to a collective subject the concept of ‘social movement’ may easily be reduced either to a reified category of structural analysis or a voluntaristic outcome of individual motivation (Melucci. 1985). through ‘organized investments’ through which participants define the means. 1995). through which participants come to understand themselves as a ‘we’ (see also Eyerman and Jamison. 1995).

perhaps in this case. The coalition of traditional political foes represented by the Australian Conservation Foundation and National Farmers’ Federation combined with discourses of self-reliance and participation to provide a politically acceptable framing of the issue. Indeed. 1995. therefore. Opportunities for state action are circumscribed by constructions of the scope. likely to be seen as a legitimate state intervention – but through which these discourses are applied to new contexts and developed in novel ways. Admitting non-human actants in the construction of environmental social movements Most attempts to bring nature into social theory – including ecological Marxism. 1991). However. it is of little consequence to those more interested in exploring collective action in whatever form it takes (Melucci. the ontological status of landcare as a movement seems rather less controversial. co-evolutionism and societal metabolism . 1998). rather than defining. 2001) – that necessitated the emergence of some sort of collective subject embodied either in the state. 1994). In the case of landcare. form and objects of legitimate authority (Foucault. while the provision of resources to assist in group coordination lowered the transaction costs of mobilization for community landcare group members. 1996). The remainder of this article will explore the potential of an explicitly non-dualistic theoretical perspective to contribute to our understanding of mobilization around ‘landcare’ and to the material and discursive impacts of this mobilization. O’Connor. see also Hay. But what does this explanation really tell us? It is true that the discourse of the ‘landcare movement’ obscures power relations. It is also possible to argue that devolution of responsibility to actually do something about environmental degradation to a loosely defined ‘landcare movement’ is actually a triumph of state legitimation and the capture of traditionally critical social movement organizations (Lockie. feature of social movements that may or may not contribute to the framing of issues. it is certainly possible – drawing on the perspectives outlined above – to argue that contradictions within the capitalist mode of production that characterizes Australian agriculture established structural crisis conditions – generating environmental and social externalities with the potential to undermine capital accumulation (Lockie. if conflict is reclassified as a common. structure of political opportunities and so on. a hybrid of the two. Nevertheless. Farley. this is not to say that ‘landcare’ represents the participatory democratic challenge to centralized government that many commentators envision (Alexander. environmental history. but this does not support a monolithic theory of state domination.Lockie: The Australian ‘landcare movement’ 49 clear about what exactly it is). 2000. we find a programme that is consistent with a range of pre-existing political discourses – and. 1994. a social movement or.

that takes the seemingly more radical step of dissolving altogether the distinctions between society and nature. 1999). This does not mean that the patterns so often identified as ‘social structures’ are mere figments of the sociological imagination. recording and sorting of materials and knowledge. 1993: 64). forms and formulae. Action. very tiny locus’ (Latour. on recent work in the sociology of scientific knowledge (SSK). subjectivity and morality all derive from relations between entities rather than from either individuals or totalities. attempts to sum up ‘interactions through various kinds of devices. as phenomena that may take many forms. The focus on relationality implies that there is no change of scale in the social domain between the micro/actor and the macro/structural (Latour. 1999: 18). 1993) or ‘hybrid collectifs’ (Callon and Law. The resulting partnerships – ‘cyborgs’ (Haraway. As a concept that is somewhat analogous with the Foucauldian notion of discourse. humans. Accompanying this ontological shift is a parallel dissolution of dualisms between structure and agency and between macro and micro-levels of analysis. Questions of what agency is and whether it may be attributed to non-humans are seen as irrelevant since agency and power are themselves relational effects.50 Journal of Sociology 40(1) – may be characterized as dialectical. broadcasting. at times concentrated and at times dispersed (Hindess. This article draws more heavily. as well as the speaking. The social is conceived from this perspective as radically relational. very practical. 1999: 17). arguing that the networks of the social comprise a diverse assemblage of humans and non-humans (Latour. act on. building and so on. and interdependently with. Law (1994: 109) conceptualizes such coherences as ‘modes of ordering’ that ‘speak through. 1995. consciousness. 1991). 1995) – are ‘simultaneously real. in fact. inscriptions. intentionality. 1993). by attempting to balance on both poles of social and natural determinism at once. Latour. discursive and social’ (Latour. and recursively organize the full range of social materials’. Both the self and the collective are decentred as the focus of strategic intention and – in a manner that recalls Melucci’s notion of collective identity as process . attributing nature a capacity to act independently of. They are not defined a priori but treated as research questions (Callon and Law. These dichotomies fail to recognize that what appear as macro-level social phenomena are. Haraway. packaging. dialectical approaches risk the articulation of reified and monolithic visions of ‘society’ and ‘nature’ (FitzSimmons and Goodman. ‘quasiobjects/quasi-subjects’ (Latour. or actor-network theory. 1991). 1996). 1998. but that such patterns are the generative outcome of network interactions and not their cause. therefore. The relational perspective of SSK has clear implications for the attribution of agency to a collective subject such as a ‘social movement’. this stresses the ways in which patterns of relationships are made durable – and hence made to appear inevitable – through the counting. writing. into a very local. However.

and what motivates individuals to join on the other) and towards the ways in which localized practices that ‘sum up’ and . scientific knowledge is used to ‘order’ the world outside the laboratory and thus to render it knowable and manipulable. environmental disputes are seldom straightforward conflicts between technocentric science and romantic environmentalism. trees. and networks themselves are often marked by fluidity. etc. for example. redefinitions of the self and denial of the contributions of subservient actants (Leigh Star. 1991). But. or ‘centres of calculation’. 1991). nor an explicit theoretical attempt even to define movements. In fact. livestock. in the networks of natural resource management. conflicts over who may speak on behalf of non-humans – birds. chemicals. Attempts at network construction and stabilization are thus politically charged processes often involving exclusion. sediments. machines. are to prevail (Beck. of course. they are conflicts over whose science. Callon and Law. While no more universal than any other form of knowledge. Law. Translation involves the displacement of others and the expression ‘in one’s own language’ of ‘what others say and want. 1986). 1992). The theoretical propositions outlined in this section do not offer the basis for a new explanatory theory of social movements. 1991. A number of conceptual tools have been put forward by contributors to SSK to interrogate the processes through which networks express power and agency. The question facing sociologists in relation to collective action is directed away from established macro and micro-sociological approaches (in terms of what social processes or contradictions cause social movements on the one hand. interests or concerns of actants to enrol them in networks. It is those concepts developed to understand how translation is affected across spatially and temporally extensive networks that are particularly useful in the understanding of apparently mass social movements.Lockie: The Australian ‘landcare movement’ 51 – agency and power conceptualized as emergent and variable outcomes of relationships within networks (Callon. 1995. instability and dissidence (Callon. actions. science is not a unified and monolithic entity despite its frequent representation as such. frogs. The expression of agency in such situations is highly dependent on the ability to open the black box of ‘science’ and to enrol its actants in one’s own networks. The concept of ‘action at a distance’ was developed by Latour (1987) to articulate the manner in which localized scientific practices (conducted in the laboratory or at sampling sites) assume an air of universal applicability via their extension in space and time. refers to the process of aligning the properties. Even though the ‘natural sciences’ have established themselves as ‘obligatory points of passage’ (Callon. and the ends to which it is to be applied. 1986: 223). crops. dams. they suggest there should be no such theory. Environmental controversies are often. as much as anything else. why they act in the way they do and how they associate with each other’ (Callon. 1986). Translation. Rather. – and how they might respond to attempts to enrol them in proposed actions.

For many companies.52 Journal of Sociology 40(1) ‘order’ interactions across space and time are implemented and sustained. forecasts. in other words. among other means. 1997d). However. environmental protection and community empowerment (Lockie. 1997a. it does enable us to explore in more depth the practices of power-knowledge that are used to order landcare networks and the material-discursive impacts of these practices. This is not the place to debate the particular environmental claims of agri-chemicals (see Lockie. 1998). In fact. There is insufficient space to explore here the full range of ordering practices relevant to the landcare movement. It is quite obvious that a combination of material changes in agro-ecosystems combined with the ‘summing up’ and representation of those changes through scientific and local knowledge claims. The discourse of inclusiveness has concretely been manifested in sponsorship and award programmes that enable agribusiness firms and other large companies to associate themselves with landcare’s socially and environmentally positive image (Lockie. Agri-chemical companies including Dow and Monsanto have sponsored landcare groups through. towards how networks perform social movements. testimonials. the objective is to associate the use of the particular products or services they sell with more sustainable agriculture. this is so obvious that proponents of conventional social movement perspectives may argue it to be trivial. ironically. 1994). For others. that ‘inclusivity’ has been used. rather. SSK perspectives and the ‘landcare movement’ While many of the foundation stories constructed around landcare point to the political opportunities that were opened up by the broad electoral appeal of the alliance between farmers and conservationists (Campbell. While the relational perspective of SSK may encourage us to be suspicious of attempts to develop more foundation stories with which to answer these questions. the supply of chemicals for use in tree-planting and pasture establishment. The point is. and to ignore the really interesting questions about why mobilization has occurred around these particular issues and not others. 1999b). why it has taken this particular form and so on. to . the objective is simply to improve their environmental credibility and boost sales without actually doing anything about their own environmental practice. 1999a).. reports and mass media has been fundamental to the mobilization of people in community landcare groups. and by the consistency of landcare with the often competing discourses of economic rationalism. if we explore the discourse of inclusiveness in a little more detail it is possible to identify a number of practices that are used to exert ‘action at a distance’ over Australian farmers and to engender significant material effects on the Australian landscape. it cannot be overlooked that participation in landcare groups is highest in those agricultural regions that are most intensively degraded (Mues et al.

on the whole. the mobilization of activist networks around concepts of environmental justice and biopolitics.Lockie: The Australian ‘landcare movement’ 53 promote particular approaches to agriculture and environmental management rather than to encourage debate over these approaches and alternatives such as organic (chemical-free) agriculture. especially those related to the structural preconditions for mobilization or action and to disembodied notions of collective subjects. government and industry advisers. By itself. When confronted by the question of how to interpret apparently objective information collected during farm planning. While there is no necessary connection between planning and chemical use. information.) can only inform planning following the application of some sort of interpretive frame. the radically relational conceptualization of the social that theoretically follows from such a rejection calls into question a number of the analytical concepts used in contemporary social movement theory. who themselves reject the . pasture monitoring. the discourse of inclusivity may not have been sufficient to silence critics and create positive associations between landcare. 1997d) to lead to increased rates of synthetic input use. Involvement in farm and catchment planning. most of these frames are constructed through the field trials of departments of agriculture and agribusiness agencies. etc. In the case of agriculture. The ‘landcare movement’ is not only performed when members attend community group meetings. it is no great surprise that increased input use appears the most rational course of action. and billions of dollars in research and development. fertility or pest management trials but fertilizer and pesticide application trials (Lockie. This has contributed to an ‘ordering’ of agricultural practices in ways that are consistent with corporate interests while minimizing opposition from conservation organizations otherwise highly critical of chemical agriculture. technical support. financial record-keeping. but when they spray weeds and spread fertilizer. Conclusion: relational-materialism and social movements Rejection of the society/nature dualism challenges contemporary social movement theory on two fronts. The provision of sponsorship. for example. 1999b). These trials are not. separating the individual farmer from the support of peers. many of the seemingly neutral activities in which community landcare groups typically engage rely on technologies of power-knowledge that effectively ‘black box’ chemical use – making its use appear normal and inevitable. Rejecting this interpretive frame is a risky step. First. etc. Second. materials. sustainability and chemical agriculture. However. the collection and organization of data (through soil tests. has been used to enact ‘action at a distance’ in a situation where agrichemical companies have no direct means of control. was demonstrated in one study (see Lockie.

M. Sydney: Allen and Unwin.54 Journal of Sociology 40(1) society/nature dualism. Alexander. networks perform social movements. As we have seen in the case of the ‘landcare movement’. Callon. a relational approach suggests that the key theoretical task is not to define or explain social movements. While the stabilization of networks is seldom consensual. there is much to be done to draw out those elements of network construction that are obscured by the collective notion of ‘the movement’ and the costs that are imposed on actants by dint of their membership or non-membership of the networks that underlie this abstraction. (1995) A Framework for Change: The State of the Community Landcare Movement in Australia. As argued above. Action and Belief: A New Sociology of Knowledge? London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. Law (ed. It has been argued here that the relational approach of SSK may contribute to our understanding of collective action by offering both a non-dualist conceptualization of collective agency and a range of conceptual tools with which to unpack the dynamics of power and agency within the hybrid collectives popularly identified as social movements. References Agarwal. Callon. Campbell. Technology and Domination. London: Routledge. M. London: Sage. is of great theoretical and political importance.) A Sociology of Monsters: Essays on Power. Answering the question of who attempts to speak on behalf of ‘movements’. and J. (1991) ‘Techno-economic Networks and Irreversibility’. but to explore the ways in which localized practices that ‘sum up’ and ‘order’ interactions across space and time are implemented and sustained. (1994) Landcare: Communities Shaping the Land and the Future: With Case Studies by Greg Siepen. 132–61 in J. pp. U. South Atlantic Quarterly 94(2): 481–507. calls into question both the validity of analyses made of them as exclusively social movements and the ability of contemporary theory to engage with them in politically constructive ways. 196–229 in J. (1986) ‘Some Elements of a Sociology of Translation: Domestication of the Scallops and the Fishermen of St Brieuc Bay’. H. Law (1995) ‘Agency and the Hybrid Collectif’.) Power. the enrolment of conservation organizations in what is constructed as an inclusive. Canberra: National Landcare Program. Law (ed. Beck. Feminist Studies 18(1): 119–58. to how. pp. or to open the black boxes of agri-science that make chemical use appear inevitable and rational. in other words. M. B. The language of ‘social movements’ is used all too easily to construct ‘black boxes’ of collective subjectivity and action by proponents and opponents alike. (1992) Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity. A. . (1992) ‘The Gender and Environment Debate: Lessons From India’. using what technologies and in pursuit of what goals. community-based approach to rural environmental degradation has limited their ability to publicly oppose agri-chemical companies drawn also into this network. Callon.

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(1999) ‘Global Politics and Transnational Social Movements Strategies: The Transnational Campaign Against International Trade in Toxic Wastes’. UK: Edward Elgar). Novotny.lockie@cqu.au] . Farley (1989) ‘A National Land Management Program’. Canberra: Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics. P.Lockie: The Australian ‘landcare movement’ 57 Mues. Offe. Totnes. Touraine. Bourke (eds) Rurality Bites: The Social and Environmental Transformation of Rural Australia. Pinderhughes. 137–58 in D. Shiva. UK: Green Books. Social Research 52(4): 749–87. Reeve.) The Struggle for Ecological Democracy: Environmental Justice Movements in the United States. Sustaining Environments (Brisbane: Australian Academic Press) and Environment. Sydney: Pluto Press. J. L. With Professor Geoffrey Lawrence and Dr Kristen Lyons he is currently preparing a book based on the outcomes of their ARC-funded research into the greening of food networks. H. Society and Natural Resource Management (Cheltenham. A. Chapman and R. D. O’Connor. (1984) The Roots of Modern Environmentalism. Sociological Research Online 4(3). pp. (1998) Natural Causes: Essays in Ecological Marxism. (1999) ‘Genetics and the Future of Nature Politics’. (1996) ‘The Impact of Race on Environmental Quality: An Empirical and Theoretical Discussion’. (2001) ‘Property Rights and Natural Resource Management: Tiptoeing round the Slumbering Dragon’. Van Hilst (1998) Landcare: Promoting Improved Land Management Practices on Australian Farms. [email: s. pp. Toyne. (1998) ‘Popular Epidemiology and the Struggle for Community Health in the Environmental Justice Movement’. Address: Centre for Social Science Research. (1998) Biopiracy: The Plunder of Nature and Knowledge. 170–88 in D. A. R. London: Routledge. 257–69 in S. pp. (1990) Ideology and the New Social Movements. Australian Journal of Soil and Water Conservation 2(2): 6–9.edu. C. Lockie and L. Consuming Foods. London: Routledge. (1985) ‘New Social Movements: Challenging the Boundaries of Institutional Politics’. Kriesi and D. and R. Smith. Sociological Perspectives 39(2): 231–48. P.. Central Queensland University. Pepper. della Porta. J. New York: Guilford. (1985) ‘An Introduction to the Study of Social Movements’. Australia. C. New York: Guilford Press. London: Macmillan Press. Rockhampton QLD 4702. Rucht (eds) Social Movements in a Globalizing World. Associate Professor Lockie is co-editor of a number of recent books including Rurality Bites: The Social and Environmental Transformation of Rural Australia (Sydney: Pluto Press). V. Faber (ed. Sutton. I. Biographical note Stewart Lockie is Director of the Centre for Social Science Research at Central Queensland University. His research interests lie in the sociology of food and agriculture. Social Research 52(4): 817–68. Scott. natural resource management and social impact assessment. P.