Building on ideas I began to develop in the 1990s this course situates farming technologies within social contexts. Farming is always embedded (in the Polanyian sense) within the social relations of farmers, but the industrialization of farming in the 20th century made it appear as if it were a technical exercise of applying scientific knowledge. This Weberian rationalization occasioned what I refer to as the socio-technical split where farming practices come to be seen as a something separate and distinct from the everyday beliefs and behaviors of persons. The first aim of this course then is to guide students toward a basic conceptual and historical understanding of the socio-technical split and it’s cultural (modernity as we know it, in both its creative and destructive elements) and environmental (global warming, ocean eutrophication, loss of biodiversity, etc.) consequences. The second is to then think about how to re-embed, repair, re-connect the social and the technical. We explore this through the social agronomy of agroecology and the design of farmed landscapes. The goal of looking to agroecology as an intellectual resource, and its foundation in the “traditional” farming practices of peasants across the planet, is not to envision an atavistic, and impossible, ‘return’ to village economics. Instead it is first to recognize and valorize (both ethically and monetarily) the fact of the continuing reliance of humanity on peasants; and second to design strategies to overcome the limitations of industrial modernity through reconfiguring the social relations of food and farming. A key conceptual and practical challenge here is to avoid falling into the reproduction of the split. That is, if we look to the science of agroecology in the hope to find technical fixes for industrial agriculture then we won’t subject industrial modernity to a critical understanding, instead we’ll stay enmeshed in the ethos of rationalization that underlies the problems of industrial modernity.
Through Concept Mapping exercises and semester long research projects students focus on specific ecological problems. They develop an historical analysis of the problems leading to the design of a possible solution for the problem, or at least that piece of it that they choose to emphasize. These designs often take the form of policy prescriptions but they sometimes lead to proposals. The semester ends with a poster session where they present the fruits of their labors.
In Spring 2017 the course had students from 7 different programs across the university. Here are a few of the posters they produced.