Farming technology: an interplay between grounded and engineering ontologies
(Institute of Development Studies)
Jean-Philippe Venot (Institut de Recherche pour le Developpement (IRD))
Paper short abstract:
We use the cases of drip irrigation and the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) to explore the interplay between the abstract ontologies of agricultural scientists and engineers, and the socially, culturally and agro-ecologically embedded, practical and situated ontologies of small-scale farmers.
Paper long abstract:
We argue that agricultural technologies are shaped by the interplay between the universalising ontology of agricultural science and engineering, and the situated ontology of farming practice. Agricultural engineers typically conceptualise farming technology as an assembly of material inputs and hardware, or as packages of technical and managerial practices. Conceived in this abstract way, one can envisage the smooth introduction of technologies or their seamless transfer from one site to another. This approach results in a procession of glittering silver bullet technologies rising and, predictably, fading again. The practical reality of technological change in agriculture is a spatially and temporally situated, socially embedded process of problem-solving. From this perspective, technology is the purposeful use of tools (including hardware, knowledge and information) by human agents as they attempt to achieve particular goals. It is through this practical work that the ontologies of engineers and farmers confront the materiality of specific agro-ecological situations. We argue that the intimate interactions between farmers and communities and their soils, seeds, water, etc. are inescapable processes within agricultural innovation and technological change. Yet, this practical activity is also influenced by, and communicates with, the abstract, universalizing ontologies of science. We use the cases of drip irrigation and the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) to explain our argument. In both cases, blueprints of technological change are transformed locally into distinct forms within which, we argue, the abstract and normative assumptions of technocrats play a relatively minor role.
'Grounding': when multiple ontologies meet material facts