Mapping the Dynamics of New Forms of Technological Governance in Agriculture: Methodological Considerations
Higgins, V and Kitto, S, Mapping the Dynamics of New Forms of Technological Governance in Agriculture: Methodological Considerations, Environment and Planning A, 36, (8) pp. 1397-1410. ISSN 0308-518X (2004) [Refereed Article]
This paper reflects on the conceptual issues involved in developing a methodology to study the role of computer-based technologies, and particularly farm planning and management software, in governing the practices of farmers. It represents the first stage of a larger project that explores how farm planning and management practices are governed through, and reconfigured by, such technology. In recent years, computer software has been encouraged by a range of government and nongovernment agencies and organisations as a useful technical means of supporting farm decisionmaking and improving farmers' managerial capacities, thereby improving their competitive position. The key question of this paper is how to conceptualise and study this link. Existing literature in the area tends to draw on either rationalist – technological determinist or social constructionist accounts which, we suggest, are limited in understanding such software as a type of governmental technology that has productive effects. We argue that a methodology drawing upon insights from governmentality and actor-network theory enables the role of software in programmes of agricultural governance to be more robustly explored as a sociotechnical process. Specifically, a ‘sociology of translation’ is outlined to demonstrate how computer software can be analysed as a material technology of government that constitutes and shapes the capacities of ‘users’ as calculable agents. In order to demonstrate how such a methodology might work in practice, we apply a translation methodology to decision-support software designed to improve the planning practices of dairy farmers in the State of Victoria, Australia.