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Melanie Bryant (University of Tasmania, Australia)

Vaughan Higgins (University of Tasmania, Australia)

Topic: Managing Biological Threats to Food Production: An Institutional Logics Approach

Keywords: Biosecurity; Shared Responsibility; Food Production; Institutional Logics


Invasive pests and diseases present a global biological threat to human, animal and plant health, as well as to future food security. Scholars and policy makers have engaged in lengthy debate about how to manage the myriad of problems associated with these threats. However, limited research has been conducted focusing specifically on the national and sub-national agencies and organisations involved in the implementation of biosecurity and the responsibility that each of these have both individually and collectively for preventing and managing biological threats. This is a particularly significant issue in countries such as the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand where governments have sought to enhance responsiveness to biological threats by devolving responsibility for biosecurity governance to a wider range of public and private institutions. Our focus in this paper is on utilising the theory of institutional logics as a way of developing sociological insights into the organisational challenges and opportunities in achieving cost and responsibility sharing of biosecurity governance. An institutional logic is defined as a ‘set of material practices and symbolic constructions’ (Friedland and Alford, 1991: 248) that draws upon ‘socially constructed, historical patterns of … practices, assumptions, values, beliefs and rules’ (Thornton and Ocasio, 1999: 804). Using Australian biosecurity as an example, we argue that there are three key ways in which an institutional logics framework provides insights into the efficacy of a shared responsibility approach to biosecurity. First, it draws attention to trade liberalisation as a dominant regulatory logic at an international scale that imposes significant constraints for the national implementation of a shared responsibility approach. At the same time, this approach highlights the significance of multiple logics – particularly the tension between trade liberalisation and precautionary logics – which can lead to disagreement, tensions and different interpretations among national and sub-national biosecurity stakeholders. Finally, we show how overlapping and blended logics may provide a way of making shared responsibility workable. Work on overlapping and blended logics highlights how organisational actors find creative ways in practice of negotiating the demands of different logics and balancing or managing the tensions imposed by multiple logics.

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