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Narrative framing of the (heroic and rebellious) actors in the struggle for organic food and farming

Mikkola, Minna (2017) Narrative framing of the (heroic and rebellious) actors in the struggle for organic food and farming. In: Aakkula, Jyrki; Hakala, Kaija; Huhta, Harri; Iivonen, Sari; Jurvanen, Ulla; Kreismane, Dzidra; Land, Anita; Lähdesmäki, Merja; Malingen, Matti; Mikkola, Minna; Nordlund-Othen, Janne; Nuutila, Jaakko; Peetsmann, Elen; Piskonen, Sirpa; Rasmussen, Ilse A.; Skulskis, Virgilijus; Tahvonen, Raija; Taskinen, Sirpa; Ullvén, Karin; Wibe, Wibe, Atle and Wivstad, Maria (Eds.) NJF Seminar 495 - 4th organic Conference: Organics for tomorrow's food systems, 19 - 21 June 2017, Mikkeli, Finland, 13 (1), NJF Report, pp. 101-103.

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This paper appreciates the well-known and insightful Dutch construct of transition management as a successful meta-theory for socio-economic and environmental change. However, the change, as a very complex phenomenon, could also be analyzed as rich, extensive and intensive as well as more unstable and open-ended change process. Therefore, the paper proposes that research and innovation projects could benefit from the narrative model particularly when the work is carried out by multiple actors, some of who are researchers and some practitioners. The paper proposes the narrative model (Greimas, 1966) as a valid meta-theory which links actors’ roles, positions, devices and contradictory aims into the story line which makes the wonder of socio-economic and environmental change visible.
Background and objectives
Social change is an extremely important phenomenon to be understood and obviously, due to its risks and benefits, its management would be highly desirable. When regarding food and farming, the social change, more specifically understood as transformation of large socio-economic systems entailing environmental impacts, collaboration between research and practice needs a red thread for planning, communication, implementation and dissemination for successful delivery. This paper reads transition management theory as an excellent account about technological and industrial change, which knits well strategic planning, development of progressive policies and public as well as private funding (Vellema, 2011). To add more social richness and open-endedness, and also contradictory features as ‘drama’, this paper explains why narrative model would be a support for research and innovation projects with multi-level developments with very different actors and actor groups.
Key results and discussion
Transition management theory is deployed in several Dutch case studies as a basic resource (Vellema, 2011). The theory depicts change through three levels. The uppermost level is the “landscape” reflecting global trade and its consequences for socio-economic activities. The middle level is the “regime” which depicts the ‘play of the game’ and finally the “niche” as the source for change through technological and socio-economic innovations, assumed to mainstream competitively within the regime. However, here the levels and their ‘roles’ are ‘pre-defined’, and their voices focused on innovation activities whereby other social aspects and actors seem damped. (Buurma, 2011) also notes how the ‘weaknes’ of the regime may enable changes to occur, rather than the niche only. This suggests the whole construct could be understood in more flexible and nuanced ways.
This paper proposes the narrative model as a generic and ‘dramatic’ theoretical approach which would more visibly connect the different levels with various actors’ simultaneous dealings across the levels in active pursuit of their goals, often stemming from contradictory interests and expectations.
The narrative model, initiated by Propp (1973) and elaborated by Greimas (1966) presents a scenery whereby the subject has an object, the achieving of which is motivated by the sender; the story line builds around the subject’s efforts for the object while the opposing subject works to hinder the subject from achieving the object. Here both the subject and the opposing subject may have ‘helpers’, agents, which align themselves according to the aims of the main players. These agents also use various ‘tools’ to aid their aims. Finally, if achieving the object, the subject is rewarded and if not, the opposing subject gets their ‘way’ as a reward. The theory is flexible in the way that the same actor in the scenery may represent different actor-positions simultaneously; the position of the sender and the receiver are available for the subject, who is committed to the task and looks for reward. However, typically there are several actors on the scenery. Furthermore, actor positions may also present ambiguity towards the subject’s and the opposing subject’s efforts and aims.
The narrative framing emphasizes the plot and actors’ goals, often in contradictory terms with conventional agriculture, thus framing the struggle of the organic movement in proper light. Intriguingly, it can present the actors as both self-serving (organic farmers interested in economic achievements) and broadly altruistic (showing the other regarding behavior). Thereby farmers may contribute both to the sending role as well as the struggling and receiving one too. As a trace from folk tales, the farmers can adopt the ‘heroic’ role as they struggle – in rebellious ways – in the clutches of the establishment and its legal requirements. Furthermore, actors can vacillate between the roles as they change sides, turning from conventional to organic and vice versa. In a useful role in the theory are the ’ tools’, which may range from technology to nature to legal devices to consumer campaigns. This helps to put on one plane very different ‘tools’ such as current and new technology, biological features, legal documents, administrational bodies and social movements in support or resistance of the subject’s efforts. Finally, the conditions of the narrative are as broad and deep as to accept other social scientific and technological theories as well as practices (both quantitative and qualitative) meeting the relevant role in the story line.
How work was carried out?
The work is a result of a long-term acquaintance with social scientific theoretical sources and exercises made in their application for several projects, both domestic, Nordic and Horizon 2020.
Buurma, J. 2011. Changing the crop protection or pesticide use regime in the Netherlands: an analysis of public debate. In: Vellema, S. (Ed.) 2011. Transformation and sustainability in agriculture. Wageningen, Wageningen Academic Publishers. Pp. 147-163.
Greimas, A.J. 1966. Sémantique structurale. Paris, Larousse.
Propp, V. 1973. Morphology of Folktale. Austin and London, University of Texas Press.
Vellema, S. (Ed.) 2011. Transformation and sustainability in agriculture. Wageningen, Wageningen Academic Publishers

EPrint Type:Conference paper, poster, etc.
Type of presentation:Paper
Keywords:research and innovation projects, transition management, narrative model
Agrovoc keywords:
Subjects: Food systems > Community development
Food systems
Research affiliation: European Union
International Conferences > 2017: NJF Seminar 495 - Organics for tomorrow's food systems > 3. Organics in our societies
Deposited By: Mikkola, Ms Minna Maria
ID Code:31442
Deposited On:19 Jun 2017 09:18
Last Modified:05 Jul 2017 10:41
Document Language:English
Refereed:Peer-reviewed and accepted

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