Organic farming: an institutional ethnography




Wagner, Katherine

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This thesis investigates challenges to promoting socially just, locally focused agriculture faced by the organic certification program that now regulates organic farming in British Columbia. This inquiry into how organic certification works is conducted as an institutional ethnography. Institutional ethnography is the methodological foundation of Dorothy Smith’s feminist sociology for people. For the institutional ethnographer, ordinary daily activity is the site for investigation of social organization. Small scale organic farmers who are committed to sustainable, socially and ecologically just agriculture offer a critical standpoint from which to explicate extra-local text mediated ruling relations. This inquiry draws on data from open-ended interviews with farmers and an independent organic certification inspector. From these accounts I begin to address how it is that BC’s organic farming certification program actually enters into and reconstitutes the everyday work of farmers and inspectors. From my findings I argue that corporate interests and a focus on global free trade in organic produce and products increasingly guide the institutional structure of organic certification programs. This in turn moves organic farming out of local, farmer control.



institutional ethnography, organic farming, feminism, qualitative research, sustainable agriculture, organic certification, social organization, food regulation, social justice, ecological justice, text mediation, neoliberalism, food localization, grassroots movements