The Virtual Farmer: Past, Present and Future of the Dutch Peasantry

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Uitgeverij Van Gorcum, 2003 - History - 432 pages
The virtual farmer guides us towars a better understanding of the associated identities and practices that make up the agricultural sector. In this book the author developes a new and integrated view of agriculture and the countryside - a perspective that combines historical, economic, social, cultural and political dimensions with the technological. At the same time he attempts to identify new developments that might provide the bases for reestablishing public's confidence in the country's agriculture - a reconciliation that is urgently needed.

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The Virtual Farmer contains five, distinctively different storylines. These storylines interweave and interconnect in places. In other places I attempt to develop first this, then another, storyline independently.
The first storyline concerns agriculture as a complex practice - as a carefully coordinated unit comprising (i) the mobilisation of resources, (ii) the conversion of resources into end products, and (iii) the sale of these end products.
The mobilisation of resources is discussed in Chapter 2 in particular. There I point out how, via a lengthy and complex emancipation process, the mobilisation of resources (land, capital, labour, knowledge, water, tools, etc.) is actively withdrawn from the influence of markets. This distantiation from markets at the input side of the farm provided the basis for the success of Dutch agriculture. Creating a certain distance between farm and markets turned out to be one of the hidden ingredients explaining the success of Dutch agriculture. It is also one of the ingredients that is systematically ignored in the currently predominant description of 'the virtual farmer'. Farmers act as Homo economicus within the image produced by the contemporary agricultural knowledge network, as entrepreneurs integrating their farm fully into markets and therefore following and implementing the logic of the market: as puppets on a string.
Dutch farmers are, I will argue in this book, not so much the entrepreneurs they should be according to the agricultural expert system, but peasants: producers who, for the sake of their own survival, actively withdraw the processes of farm management and farm development from the logic of markets that seem to ignore their survival.
‘We have never been modern’, according to Latour in a well-known essay (1993). In its footsteps one could claim: ‘Dutch farmers have never been entrepreneurs’ (which in fact has already been raised by Constandse in 1964). They are peasants, and precisely because they are peasants they have proved to be so successful through the ages. The fact that this is also extremely topical and relevant nowadays is discussed in Chapter 5.
The transformation or conversion of resources into end products is discussed at length in Chapter 4. This transformation (for example from grass and cows into milk and meat) is conceptualised in the agricultural expert system as regulated by production functions: a fixed relationship between inputs (grass and cows) and outputs (milk and meat). It is assumed that new, more productive and/or more sustainable production functions can only be created after technological breakthroughs.
In contrast to this thesis, I want to develop another image. Indeed, there are regularities and patterns of coherence. Unmistakably, the relation between inputs and outputs (the I/O relation) displays a certain range and contains a certain, as yet uncrossable, frontier function (the most efficient I/O relation) in certain, temporally and spatially restricted situations. But what is important here is that these patterns or regularities are a product, a result of the labour process in agriculture. Furthermore, I regard the labour process as locus of co-production, of the continuous encounter between, and mutual transformation of, the social and the natural. Precisely because the results of this co-production are rooted in, and arise from, the labour process, it will always involve extremely variable I/O relations. New production functions are constantly created in and through the process of farm labour: new patterns of coherence that correspond closely with farmers’ own interests, perspectives, insights, and knowledge.
In previous studies of farming styles, researchers concentrated initially on the above-mentioned dimensions: the conversion and mobilisation of resources. This initially limited approach was later broadened to the commercialisation of products and services. The focus shifted to the specific circuits connecting production and consumption. These are understood as ordering


Past Present and Future
Dancing through Time
Capturing the Intangible
Redundancy as Contemporary Drama and the Production of Myths
Structural Involution and the Erosion of Trust
Structure Time Knowledge and Power

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