Power in Practice: Insights from Technography and Actor-Network Theory for Agricultural Sustainability

Working Paper

STEPS Working Paper 100
October 2017

In this paper, we use conceptual insights from two distinct traditions within the social studies of science and technology, namely actor-network theory (ANT) and technography, to explore the relationship between power and the reconfiguration of agricultural practices toward sustainability.

Noting the generative (productive) and repressive aspects of power, we examine how power manifests in practice by generating and enforcing rules and norms, creating and implementing regulations, driving the adoption of specific technologies, determining how resources are used, and (de) skilling labour. In particular, the conceptual frameworks of ANT and technography help us to discuss how power is refracted through socio-material settings, oral and written discourses, organisational frameworks and cultural institutions.

We consider how agency is distributed, through power in practice, among collectives constituted by human/social and nonhuman/material entities. Our discussion highlights the importance of configuring, enlarging and nurturing spaces in which small farmers and marginalised people are empowered to adjust and adapt, or resist and reject, modern and nonmodern technologies, in order to practice the kinds of agriculture they consider sustainable, appropriate and valuable.

In conclusion we relate our discussion to a distinction, made earlier by other STEPS Centre researchers, between strategies for achieving sustainable agricultural transformations that aspire to a fantasy of control and those that are based on an ethic of care.