Topic: Farm strategy and its embedding in the socio-material context - a relational view
Keywords: Farm development, entrepreneurship, embeddedness, strategy, perception, sociology of entrepreneurship
Based on PhD dissertation ‘Farmers’ perception of opportunities for farm development’, Rural Sociology, Wageningen University and Research.
Promotor Prof dr ir J.S.C. Wiskerke, Co-promotors Dr ir D. Roep and Dr ir J.A.A.M. Verstegen
This conceptual paper supports a sociology of entrepreneurship approach to study farm development. A unique case of 100 dairy farmers operating in a highly comparable socio-material context allowed to study differences in farmers’ perception of opportunities. The differences found between groups of farmers were related to differences in the embedding of the farm in the socio-material context. This led to a view on the three-fold embedding of farm practices: 1) the relations on resources; 2) the relations in the value chain; and 3) the socio-cultural relations. The findings lead to the following conclusions. 1) Strategic decision-making is the process of embedding farm practices in complex and dynamic relations. 2) The farmer is an entrepreneurial actor in a socio-material context that both enables and constrains farm development and thus affects the farmer’s perceived room for manoeuvre: the farmer as an entrepreneurial actor cannot be separated from the identification of opportunities. 3) A relational approach is needed as a farm and the wider context are co-shaped in complex, interrelated and dynamic relations. Boundaries between internal and external farm factors cannot be objectively defined as all factors are mediated by the perception and agency of the farmer. The family farm can be seen as the materialisation of the implicit and explicit positioning in the relations of the farm within the socio-material context; a co-construction in which the farmer aims to manage the relations. The personal views and preferences of the farmer are highly influential for the perception of opportunities for farm development. Farm development is highly affected by subjective parameters meaning which stresses the need to address the issue of famers’ views and preferences for farm development in relation to regional development programmes. For farmers it is important to realize that a change in view of the situation may change the perception of opportunities. Viewing the embedding of the farm as a three-fold embedding in the socio-material context allows to discuss personal views and preferences.