Topic: A relational perspective of the trajectory of the organic sector in Austria
Keywords: organic farming, relational sociology
In Austria, 24% of the UAA is certified organic. A number of explanations have been advanced to explain why organic farming was so successful in Austria, including supportive public policies, the early cooperation with supermarkets, and the high share of mountainous areas that are not amenable to ‘modernization’. However, these explanations are only partly satisfactory as e.g. Switzerland or Bavaria have a broadly comparable topography, organic farming has also been supported by agricultural policies, and the demand for organic foods in supermarkets is similarly high. Taking a relational perspective allows to overcome the limitations of seeking simple causal relationships, especially when the various influencing factors are considered in isolation. Indeed, the trajectory of the organic sector in Austria over the last 25 years may be better understood as a complex and evolving intertwining of relations over time. These dynamics are unpredictable, as they depend on whether and how a range of actors can build and maintain relations between organic agriculture and broader issues in the agrifood system, such as the maintenance of family farms or environmental protection. It also depends on the ability of organic actors to be able to build relations between issues in the public discourse such as food scares and the qualities specific to organic food. A relational perspective allows to highlight the national situatedness and the influence of complex historical contingencies on the trajectory of the organic sector. It shows how the trajectory depends on the creativity of organic actors in engaging with various societal actors, including their ability to make organic farming relevant to emerging public discourses, their ability to recognize and seize windows of opportunity, and their ability to navigate between cooperation and co-optation by conventional structures. A relational perspective can thus contribute to the theorisation of the organic sector, by showing that its trajectory is not a field of invariant logic or automatic unfoldings, but an ensemble of emergent social practices.