CANCELLED Bricoleurs of the Organic Agriculture Movement

Saturday, January 8, 2011
Ballroom C (Hynes Convention Center)
Robin O'Sullivan , Troy University
Bricoleurs of the Organic Agriculture Movement

Formation of a collective identity is imperative to social movements. Alberto Melucci defined a social movement as a type of collective action that involves solidarity, is engaged in conflict, and breaks systemic limits. Actors must recognize that they are part of a “single social unit.” However, a movement is a transitory network of interaction between individuals, groups, and organizations, not a permanent monolith acting in unison. Group identity is mobile and fragmented, not fixed or unified. Movements adapt to changing circumstances and re-invent themselves. As Stuart Hall notes, identities are constructed by specific enunciative strategies that mark difference and exclusion. They are always “in process,” never completed.

This poster presents research on the history and cultural significance of organic agriculture as a social movement in the United States. It considers the polyvalence and social embeddedness of organic production and consumption.  From agricultural pioneers in the 1940s to the contemporary consumer landscape, the organic movement has maintained connections to environmentalism, agrarianism, health food, and other ideological alignments. Organic farming has been a way of life, method of agriculture, social and political philosophy, and subversive effort. Similarly, organic consumption has been a lifestyle choice, practical decision, communicative performance, status marker, and political act.            Claude Levi-Strauss’s notion of bricolage applies to the construction of meaning within a social movement. Organic bricoleurs manipulate and revalue signs, recombining available elements and making new arrangements.  Though it has been interconnected with other movements, the organic movement does have a distinct identity. It has coalesced through core beliefs and attributes that have provided internal guidance and support. This ideology has also offered an “official” view of the movement to society at large. Even when regarded as a subset of the health food or environmental movements, the organic movement has its own history of solidarity, conflict, and violation of boundaries.

The organic movement is now largely categorized as one of several contemporary New Social Movements (NSMs), which have garnered a growing role in late capitalism. NSMs differ from models of earlier mass social movements in their emphasis on consumption’s part in the political economy, rather than on their relation to the system of production. Many of these collective initiatives have shifted towards non-political terrain, dealing instead with “self-realization” in everyday life. The self-reflexive and expressive actions of its members are indeed vital, but the organic movement has also continued to partake in political and cultural conflicts. Though the organic food industry and market are now prominent components of its structure, the organic movement as a whole maintains a social agenda.

This poster illustrates how the organic movement contributes to ongoing debates over sustainable agriculture, green consumption, and popular constructions of nature. It informs explorations of the dialectic between cultural production and consumer agency. Furthermore, it places the organic movement in the context of broader environmental, economic, cultural, ethical and historical issues in American society.

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