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Ethics, narrative, and agriculture: transforming agricultural practice through ecological imagination

By A. W. Sanford

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The environmental degradation caused by industrial agriculture, as well as the resulting social and health consequences, creates an urgency to rethink food production by expanding the moral imagination to include agricultural practices. Agricultural practices presume human use of the earth and acknowledge human dependence on the biotic community, and these relations mean that agriculture presents a separate set of considerations in the broader field of environmental ethics. Many scholars and activists have argued persuasively that we need new stories to rethink agricultural practice, however, the link - the story that does and can shape agricultural practice - has not yet been fully articulated in environmental discourse. My analysis explores how language has shaped existing agricultural models and, more important, the potential of story to influence agricultural practice. To do this, I draw upon cognitive theory to illustrate how metaphoric and narrative language structures thought and influences practice, beginning with my contention that industrial agriculture relies on a discourse of mechanistic relations between humans and a passive earth, language that has naturalized the chemically intensive monocultures prevalent in much of the American Midwest. However, alternative agricultures, including organic agriculture, agro-ecology, and ecological agriculture, emphasize qualities such as interdependence and reciprocity and do so as a deliberate response to the perceived inadequacies of industrial agriculture and its governing narrative. Exploring the different discourses of agricultural systems can help us think through different modalities for human relations with the biotic community and demonstrate story's potential role in altering practice.

Date 2011
Publication Title Journal of Agricultural & Environmental Ethics
Volume 24
Issue 3
Pages 283-303
ISBN/ISSN 1187-7863
DOI 10.1007/s10806-010-9246-6
Language English
Author Address Department of Religion, University of Florida, 107 Anderson Hall, P.O. Box 117410, Gainesville, FL 32611-7410, USA.
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Agriculture
  2. Alternative methods
  3. Animal husbandry
  4. Animal welfare
  5. Ecological agriculture
  6. Ecology
  7. Ethics
  8. Languages
  9. organic culture
  10. organic farming
  11. Plants
  12. Social psychology and social anthropology