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Collective agency, non-human causality and environmental social movements

A case study of the Australian landcare movement


Stewart Lockie
Centre for Social Science Research, Central Queensland University

Abstract
This article explores the implications for social movement theory of recent work in the sociology of scientic knowledge (SSK) that explicitly rejects dualisms between society and nature, structure and agency, and macro and micro-levels of analysis. In doing so it argues that SSK offers: (1) a theoretically useful denition of collective agency as an achievement of interaction; that is (2) sensitive to the inuence of both humans and non-humans in the networks of the social; and (3) provides practical conceptual tools with which to analyse dynamics of power and agency in the ordering of networks. Applying this framework to a case study of the Australian landcare movement it is argued that a range of practices have been used to enact action at a distance over Australian farmers and to order agricultural practices in ways that are consistent with corporate interests while minimizing opposition from conservation organizations otherwise highly critical of chemical agriculture. Keywords: environmentalism, landcare, social movements, sociology of scientic knowledge

The motivation for this article stems from a belief that the ways in which social movements are conceptualized in both popular and academic discourses are of tremendous political and environmental signicance. It will be obvious to most readers that the notion of the environment movement
Journal of Sociology 2004 The Australian Sociological Association, Volume 40(1): 4158 DOI:10.1177/1440783304040452 www.sagepublications.com

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is used just as frequently to stereotype and dismiss environmental activists as extremists and outsiders as it is to rally would-be activists around a sense of common purpose and identity. In the wake of postmodern social theory, the obvious conceptual move here is to embrace a more differentiated and contingent understanding of movements; to abandon heroic accounts of the environment movement in favour of more localized explorations of the many environment movements. Indeed, as the overt focus of environmental politics moves beyond wilderness preservation and pollution prevention (Di Chiro, 1998; Pepper, 1984) to embrace ideas such as environmental justice, livelihood preservation, environmental racism, food safety and traditional intellectual property rights (Agarwal, 1992; Faber, 1998; Low and Gleeson, 1998; Novotny, 1998; Pinderhughes, 1996; Shiva, 1998), such a move seems essential. The question is, does this take us far enough? Does an abandonment of grand narratives of universalistic movements provide us, as sociologists, with the tools and insights to engage with contemporary environmental politics? As arguably the most prominent sociological response to environmentalism, social movement theory has allowed sociologists to engage with contemporary environmentalism while remaining rmly embedded in one of the most basic assumptions of sociology; that social facts should always be explained by other social facts (Durkheim, 1938). Social movements have been conceptualized in terms of social processes and causes ranging through macro-social structural change, contradictions within the capitalist mode of production, the inability of existing political institutions to adapt to change, conict over access to resources, newly emerging political opportunities and individual motivations. The environment gures within these explanations as a passive entity on to which human action and conict are superimposed. This ontological distinction, however, between human society as the centre of agency and nature as the other is fundamentally at odds with the biopolitics of contemporary environmental conict (Goodman, 1999). Biopolitical campaigns on issues ranging from environmental justice to genetic engineering have promoted globally the inseparability and coevolution of the human and non-human (Goodman, 1999; Sutton, 1999). As Goodman (1999) argues, a sociology that fails to problematize the Cartesian dualism between society and nature is likely to be a sociology that is increasingly irrelevant to biopolitical struggle. It is not the intention of this article either to dismiss social movement theory or to develop a new theory of social movements. Rather, it is to explore the relevance of recent work in the sociology of scientic knowledge (SSK), or actor-network theory, to our understanding of those social phenomena recognized in popular and academic discourses as social movements. While SSK does not represent the only sociological attempt other than social movement theory to incorporate nature within social theory, its particular relevance here derives from the explicit attempt that is made to

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dissolve societynature dualisms. However, SSK also calls into question dichotomies between micro and macro-levels of social action, agency and structure, and so on. Not only does this raise the prospect of engaging more directly with the biopolitical struggle of contemporary environmental movements, it also has major implications for the attribution of agency to a collective subject and conceptualization of collective action. This exploration will be contextualized within a case study of the Australian landcare movement; a movement that both fails to comply with many of the features of social movements and conditions for mobilization identied in the social movement literature, and presages signicant contestation and change in the socio-environmental networks of rural Australia.

Background: the development of the landcare movement


There are many ways in which landcare can be dened, the most straightforward being in terms of the National Landcare Program (NLP); a federal government programme initiated in 1989 in response to a proposal from the National Farmers Federation (NFF) and the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) for a national land management programme that recognized what was seen as the importance of self-help action supported by local community groups and local, state and federal governments (Toyne and Farley, 1989). The principal thrust of the NLP was the promotion and support of a national network of community landcare groups based on localized watersheds or neighbourhoods. Government support was targeted towards activities considered likely to stimulate further spending in the non-government sectors rather than towards the provision of either universal subsidies or public goods. Landcare groups themselves consequently tended to focus their activities on education, farm and catchment planning, tree planting, and demonstrations and trials of new practices (Campbell, 1994; Curtis and De Lacy, 1997). Participation in landcare groups has exceeded all expectations, with over a third of all farm businesses represented in one of over 4000 groups (Mues et al., 1998). This represents profound cultural change in terms of the willingness of Australian farmers to publicly acknowledge the extent of environmental degradation and to expose their management practices to the scrutiny of peers (Lockie, 1998). Central to the discourses that circulate around landcare are notions of inclusivity (anyone can take part) and autonomy (nobody, including government, can tell anybody else what to do) (Lockie, 1999a; Martin, 1997). Such discourses have been fundamental to the enrolment of farmers who have long traditions of suspicion towards government programmes, antagonism towards conservation organizations (Morrisey and Lawrence, 1997), and a belief that ownership conveys the right to do as one pleases on ones own property (Reeve, 2001). These

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discourses have also been fundamental to the enrolment of many groups otherwise excluded from farming networks such as women, small landholders, townspeople, schools and so on (Lockie, 1997b). But landcare has come to mean many things besides the NLP and formal landcare groups. The term landcare has come to embrace almost anything related to the idea of sustainable natural resource management, while the assemblage of people and institutions involved are referred to in popular discourse as the landcare movement. The terminology of the landcare movement clearly implies that something is going on that extends beyond the formalized institutions of the NLP. According to former National Landcare Facilitator, Helen Alexander (1995), landcare is part of a global shift away from government regulation and towards participatory democracy. Former NFF Executive Director Rick Farley (1994) argues that not only does the landcare movement extend beyond the boundaries of the NLP, but neither governments nor farming organizations fully appreciate what it is they have helped to create. It is hard to be critical of such positive social change and, not surprisingly, landcare has achieved almost universal political support. Criticisms that government agencies have used the terminology of the landcare movement to redene their own activities under a more politically fashionable banner and to channel funds away from community groups and on-ground works (Lockie, 1992) have been accommodated through devolution of funding to regional catchment management groups (Lockie, 1997c). Criticisms that discourses of participatory democracy and the landcare movement overstate the degree to which governments have historically intervened in rural environmental management and obscure ongoing power relations have been relatively ignored (Lockie, 2000; Martin, 1997). Clearly, there is more at stake here than a matter of denition.

Contemporary social movement theory


The objects of concern to social movement theory are the generalizations that can be drawn across social movements. At face value, therefore, social movement theory may offer both theoretical and practical insight into the mobilization of people around the landcare movement irrespective of how divergent its objects of concern are from other environmental movements. Della Porta and Diani (1999) identify four dominant theoretical perspectives in social movement research that will be outlined in this section, before turning to some recent criticisms and attempts at synthesis across these perspectives.
Collective behaviour

Examination of social movements as a form of collective behaviour can be broken down into two distinct approaches; structural-functionalism and

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symbolic interactionism (Della Porta and Diani, 1999). Functionalists have interpreted social movements as examples of crisis behaviour; short-term responses to social change that are likely to dissipate as new equilibria develop. At times of rapid change, it is argued, social movements reect both the inability of existing sub-systems to absorb tensions and a collective search for new beliefs on which to found solidarity. However, the longevity of contemporary social movements, the complexity of their networks, and the sophistication of their political action all suggest that they are anything but short-term adaptive mechanisms (Della Porta and Diani, 1999). Taking movements as engines of change in the normal functioning of society, symbolic interactionists have emphasized the actual activities undertaken collectively to produce new norms and solidarities. Symbolic production and collective identity are seen as essential components of collective behaviour that challenge the existing social order through various forms of non-conformity. Della Porta and Diani (1999) argue, however, that adherents to this perspective tend to ignore the detailed strategy of social movements by focusing on unusual events, and can be descriptive without accounting for what they identify as the structural origins of conicts.
Resource mobilization

The resource mobilization perspective focuses analysis on the processes through which resources for collective action are mobilized, conceptualizing these as an extension of conventional forms of political action (Della Porta and Diani, 1999). It argues that it is not enough to identify structural crises or conicts from which social movements emerge; it is necessary also to examine the conditions under which discontent may be transformed into political action/mobilization. Participants, it is argued, weigh up the costs and benets of organization and strategic interaction before committing themselves to collective action. The ability of activists to access resources, organize discontent, reduce the costs of action, create and use solidarity networks, share incentives and achieve consensus has all been found to inuence the type and extent of mobilization. According to Della Porta and Diani (1999), however, this approach remains indifferent to structural sources of conict (the why of mobilization according to Scott, 1990); pays insufcient attention to the organizational potential of most dispossessed groups; and over-emphasizes the rationality of collective action while ignoring emotional stimuli.
Political process

The political process perspective focuses on the relationship between protest-based social movements and institutionalized political actors (Della Porta and Diani, 1999). Features of the political opportunity structure inuencing the mobilization and success of movements include: the relative

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openness or closedness of political systems; electoral stability or instability; availability of allies; and tolerance of protest by elites (see also McAdam et al., 1996). The institutional conditions regulating agenda-setting and decision-making, the functional division of power and geographical decentralization have also been found to inuence political opportunity. The examination of interactions between new and established political actors, and between less conventional forms of action and institutionalized systems of interest representation (Della Porta and Diani, 1999: 10) has shown social movements to be anything but marginal political actors. The weaknesses identied in this approach by Della Porta and Diani (1999) include its extremely narrow conceptualization of the realm of politics, power and decision-making; its related neglect of cultural innovation; ignorance of the structural origins of protest; and over-rationalization.
New Social Movements (NSMs)

Reecting its origins in neo-Marxist critical theory, NSM theorists have sought to identify the central conict characterizing the emerging postindustrial, post-Fordist, technocratic or programmed society (see also Scott, 1990). Although each of those movements that were commonly grouped together within NSMs environment, womens and peace movements had historical antecedents preceding their emergence as mass movements in the 1960s and 1970s, their status as new social movements was justied: (1) by their increasing importance as sources of innovation and change; (2) their focus, in contrast with old social movements, on nonmaterial goals; and (3) a self-limiting radicalism that abandoned revolutionary change in favour of structural reform to preserve autonomous spaces (see Cohen, 1985; Habermas, 1981). NSMs resisted the intrusion of the state and the market into the social and personal, seeking to defend individual identity against the manipulation of the system (Della Porta and Diani, 1999: 1213). NSM analysis focused on the challenge of NSMs to conventional representative democracy and bureaucratization, and their advocacy of decentralized and participatory organizational structures and interpersonal solidarity (Offe, 1985). NSM theory, according to Della Porta and Diani (1999), thus managed to attribute importance to the actor while identifying structural sources of conict, but contributed little to understanding how conict is translated into action. The search for the source of conict resulted in the treatment of potentially coincidental common features among movements as absolutes (Della Porta and Diani, 1999; Scott, 1990) and a failure to adapt to the increasing global importance of identity politics (Lentin, 1999).
Synthetic approaches to social movement theory

McAdam et al. (1996) argue that despite the diversity of perspectives outlined above, something of a consensus has emerged among social movement

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theorists that: (1) political opportunities; (2) mobilizing structures (in terms of collective vehicles for action such as movement organizations); and (3) framing processes (in terms of the construction of issues, access to media and cultural impact) are all crucial to the emergence and development of social movements. Social movement research must study the relationships between these factors because, while political opportunities are a necessary prerequisite to action, they will not lead to anything in the absence of organization and shared definitions of the situation among actors. Unfortunately, the comparative method that is advocated for this analysis is guilty of the same political reductionism with which Della Porta and Diani (1999) charge the political process perspective. By focusing on the interaction between social movements and established political institutions McAdam et al. not only narrow the scope of politics and conict to that engaged in by centralized state agencies, they also reduce it to the interactions of those agencies with formalized social movement organizations (see also Meyer and Tarrow, 1998; Smith, 1999). A broader understanding of social movements, according to Della Porta and Diani (1999), may also emerge from a synthesis of the various theoretical perspectives. They dene social movements as:
(1) informal networks, (2) based on shared beliefs and solidarity, which mobilise out of (3) conictual issues, through (4) the frequent use of various forms of protest. (Della Porta and Diani, 1999: 16; see also Diani, 1992)

Despite this emphasis on networks and action, Della Porta and Diani (1999) focus their analysis of specic movements on the structural analysis of macro-level contradictions and conicts (the why of mobilization). Embracing a dualistic conception of agency and structure, and micro and macro-levels of analysis, they argue that social conict arises from:
... the interaction between structural tensions and the emergence of a collective subject which can see itself as the bearer of certain values and interests, and dene its adversaries on the basis of these. (Della Porta and Diani, 1999: 87)

Structural conditions are held to exist independently of collective subjects and the denitions of conicts, values and interests around which they mobilize. Structural tensions are attributed a causal role in the emergence of movements that calls into question the extent to which social innovation and change can be attributed to movements themselves, rather than to the conditions that foster them. Melucci (1985, 1995, 1996) criticizes this dualistic approach by arguing that neither structural preconditions for action nor individual motivations can be said to lead directly to collective action. Nor can they be said to answer the question of how actors come to dene a collective identity and undertake the collective action needed to ll the gap between objective conditions and subjective motivations. Unless greater clarity can be

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provided over what it means to attribute agency to a collective subject the concept of social movement may easily be reduced either to a reied category of structural analysis or a voluntaristic outcome of individual motivation (Melucci, 1995). Melucci argues that part of the solution is to rethink the concept of collective identity as a process through which collectives are dened; through which participants come to understand themselves as a we (see also Eyerman and Jamison, 1991). Identity and action are collectively constructed, he argues, through organized investments through which participants dene the means, ends and opportunities and constraints for action while pursuing the relationships that make sense of this collective endeavour. This construction takes place through interaction, negotiation and conict with opposing viewpoints (see also Touraine, 1985). The unity of a social movement is thus a hard-won achievement; it is a result to be explained, not a starting point for evidence of structural change. Further, conceiving of collective identity as an achievement of interaction within solidarity networks requires a re-thinking of concepts like state and civil society, private and public, expressive and instrumental that rids them of their dualistic, monolithic and structuralist overtones (Melucci, 1995). However, Melucci does not provide the analytical tools with which to do this; his empirical location of the conicts in which solidarity networks are engaged at different levels within a highly differentiated social system implicitly holding to a dualism between micro and macrolevels of the social. The analytical dualisms that dominate social movement theory leave us with two fundamental problems. The rst relates to the question of what it means to attribute agency to a collective subject while avoiding, as Melucci (1995) argues, structuralism and voluntarism. The second relates to the ability of social movement theory to account for empirical changes in the action orientations and goals of contemporary social movements where these increasingly call into question the ontological separation of society and nature. Before exploring the potential contribution of SSK to these challenges this article will examine some of the implications for landcare that may be drawn from the social movement literature.

Social movement theory and the landcare movement


The most obvious thing to say about landcare is that despite being identied in popular discourse as a movement, it fails to satisfy the denition of social movements offered by Della Porta and Diani (1999) on the basis of their synthesis of social movement theory. Landcare has clear institutional antecedents and is more characterized by consensus and partnership than by conict and protest. While this makes the application of explanatory theories problematic (since one cannot explain a phenomenon without being quite

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clear about what exactly it is), it is of little consequence to those more interested in exploring collective action in whatever form it takes (Melucci, 1996). Nevertheless, it is certainly possible drawing on the perspectives outlined above to argue that contradictions within the capitalist mode of production that characterizes Australian agriculture established structural crisis conditions generating environmental and social externalities with the potential to undermine capital accumulation (Lockie, 2001) that necessitated the emergence of some sort of collective subject embodied either in the state, a social movement or, perhaps in this case, a hybrid of the two. The coalition of traditional political foes represented by the Australian Conservation Foundation and National Farmers Federation combined with discourses of self-reliance and participation to provide a politically acceptable framing of the issue, while the provision of resources to assist in group coordination lowered the transaction costs of mobilization for community landcare group members. Indeed, if conict is reclassied as a common, rather than dening, feature of social movements that may or may not contribute to the framing of issues, structure of political opportunities and so on, the ontological status of landcare as a movement seems rather less controversial. However, this is not to say that landcare represents the participatory democratic challenge to centralized government that many commentators envision (Alexander, 1995; Farley, 1994). It is also possible to argue that devolution of responsibility to actually do something about environmental degradation to a loosely dened landcare movement is actually a triumph of state legitimation and the capture of traditionally critical social movement organizations (Lockie, 2000; see also Hay, 1994; OConnor, 1998). But what does this explanation really tell us? It is true that the discourse of the landcare movement obscures power relations, but this does not support a monolithic theory of state domination. Opportunities for state action are circumscribed by constructions of the scope, form and objects of legitimate authority (Foucault, 1991). In the case of landcare, we nd a programme that is consistent with a range of pre-existing political discourses and, therefore, likely to be seen as a legitimate state intervention but through which these discourses are applied to new contexts and developed in novel ways. The remainder of this article will explore the potential of an explicitly non-dualistic theoretical perspective to contribute to our understanding of mobilization around landcare and to the material and discursive impacts of this mobilization.

Admitting non-human actants in the construction of environmental social movements


Most attempts to bring nature into social theory including ecological Marxism, environmental history, co-evolutionism and societal metabolism

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may be characterized as dialectical; attributing nature a capacity to act independently of, and interdependently with, humans. However, by attempting to balance on both poles of social and natural determinism at once, dialectical approaches risk the articulation of reied and monolithic visions of society and nature (FitzSimmons and Goodman, 1998; Haraway, 1991). This article draws more heavily, therefore, on recent work in the sociology of scientic knowledge (SSK), or actor-network theory, that takes the seemingly more radical step of dissolving altogether the distinctions between society and nature; arguing that the networks of the social comprise a diverse assemblage of humans and non-humans (Latour, 1993). The resulting partnerships cyborgs (Haraway, 1991), quasiobjects/quasi-subjects (Latour, 1993) or hybrid collectifs (Callon and Law, 1995) are simultaneously real, discursive and social (Latour, 1993: 64). The social is conceived from this perspective as radically relational. Action, intentionality, consciousness, subjectivity and morality all derive from relations between entities rather than from either individuals or totalities. Questions of what agency is and whether it may be attributed to non-humans are seen as irrelevant since agency and power are themselves relational effects. They are not dened a priori but treated as research questions (Callon and Law, 1995; Latour, 1999), as phenomena that may take many forms, at times concentrated and at times dispersed (Hindess, 1996). Accompanying this ontological shift is a parallel dissolution of dualisms between structure and agency and between macro and micro-levels of analysis. The focus on relationality implies that there is no change of scale in the social domain between the micro/actor and the macro/structural (Latour, 1999: 18). These dichotomies fail to recognize that what appear as macro-level social phenomena are, in fact, attempts to sum up interactions through various kinds of devices, inscriptions, forms and formulae, into a very local, very practical, very tiny locus (Latour, 1999: 17). This does not mean that the patterns so often identied as social structures are mere gments of the sociological imagination, but that such patterns are the generative outcome of network interactions and not their cause. Law (1994: 109) conceptualizes such coherences as modes of ordering that speak through, act on, and recursively organize the full range of social materials. As a concept that is somewhat analogous with the Foucauldian notion of discourse, this stresses the ways in which patterns of relationships are made durable and hence made to appear inevitable through the counting, recording and sorting of materials and knowledge, as well as the speaking, writing, broadcasting, packaging, building and so on. The relational perspective of SSK has clear implications for the attribution of agency to a collective subject such as a social movement. Both the self and the collective are decentred as the focus of strategic intention and in a manner that recalls Meluccis notion of collective identity as process

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agency and power conceptualized as emergent and variable outcomes of relationships within networks (Callon, 1991; Callon and Law, 1995; Law, 1991). A number of conceptual tools have been put forward by contributors to SSK to interrogate the processes through which networks express power and agency. Translation, for example, refers to the process of aligning the properties, actions, interests or concerns of actants to enrol them in networks. Translation involves the displacement of others and the expression in ones own language of what others say and want, why they act in the way they do and how they associate with each other (Callon, 1986: 223). Attempts at network construction and stabilization are thus politically charged processes often involving exclusion, redenitions of the self and denial of the contributions of subservient actants (Leigh Star, 1991), and networks themselves are often marked by uidity, instability and dissidence (Callon, 1986). It is those concepts developed to understand how translation is affected across spatially and temporally extensive networks that are particularly useful in the understanding of apparently mass social movements. The concept of action at a distance was developed by Latour (1987) to articulate the manner in which localized scientic practices (conducted in the laboratory or at sampling sites) assume an air of universal applicability via their extension in space and time. While no more universal than any other form of knowledge, scientic knowledge is used to order the world outside the laboratory and thus to render it knowable and manipulable. But, of course, science is not a unified and monolithic entity despite its frequent representation as such. Even though the natural sciences have established themselves as obligatory points of passage (Callon, 1986), or centres of calculation, in the networks of natural resource management, environmental disputes are seldom straightforward conicts between technocentric science and romantic environmentalism. Rather, they are conicts over whose science, and the ends to which it is to be applied, are to prevail (Beck, 1992). The expression of agency in such situations is highly dependent on the ability to open the black box of science and to enrol its actants in ones own networks. Environmental controversies are often, as much as anything else, conicts over who may speak on behalf of non-humans birds, machines, frogs, chemicals, dams, sediments, livestock, crops, trees, etc. and how they might respond to attempts to enrol them in proposed actions. The theoretical propositions outlined in this section do not offer the basis for a new explanatory theory of social movements. In fact, they suggest there should be no such theory, nor an explicit theoretical attempt even to dene movements. The question facing sociologists in relation to collective action is directed away from established macro and micro-sociological approaches (in terms of what social processes or contradictions cause social movements on the one hand, and what motivates individuals to join on the other) and towards the ways in which localized practices that sum up and

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order interactions across space and time are implemented and sustained; in other words, towards how networks perform social movements.

SSK perspectives and the landcare movement


While many of the foundation stories constructed around landcare point to the political opportunities that were opened up by the broad electoral appeal of the alliance between farmers and conservationists (Campbell, 1994), and by the consistency of landcare with the often competing discourses of economic rationalism, environmental protection and community empowerment (Lockie, 1997a, 1999b), it cannot be overlooked that participation in landcare groups is highest in those agricultural regions that are most intensively degraded (Mues et al., 1998). It is quite obvious that a combination of material changes in agro-ecosystems combined with the summing up and representation of those changes through scientic and local knowledge claims, forecasts, testimonials, reports and mass media has been fundamental to the mobilization of people in community landcare groups. In fact, this is so obvious that proponents of conventional social movement perspectives may argue it to be trivial, and to ignore the really interesting questions about why mobilization has occurred around these particular issues and not others, why it has taken this particular form and so on. While the relational perspective of SSK may encourage us to be suspicious of attempts to develop more foundation stories with which to answer these questions, it does enable us to explore in more depth the practices of power-knowledge that are used to order landcare networks and the material-discursive impacts of these practices. There is insufcient space to explore here the full range of ordering practices relevant to the landcare movement. However, if we explore the discourse of inclusiveness in a little more detail it is possible to identify a number of practices that are used to exert action at a distance over Australian farmers and to engender signicant material effects on the Australian landscape. The discourse of inclusiveness has concretely been manifested in sponsorship and award programmes that enable agribusiness rms and other large companies to associate themselves with landcares socially and environmentally positive image (Lockie, 1999a). For many companies, the objective is simply to improve their environmental credibility and boost sales without actually doing anything about their own environmental practice. For others, the objective is to associate the use of the particular products or services they sell with more sustainable agriculture. Agri-chemical companies including Dow and Monsanto have sponsored landcare groups through, among other means, the supply of chemicals for use in tree-planting and pasture establishment. This is not the place to debate the particular environmental claims of agri-chemicals (see Lockie, 1997d). The point is, rather, that inclusivity has been used, ironically, to

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promote particular approaches to agriculture and environmental management rather than to encourage debate over these approaches and alternatives such as organic (chemical-free) agriculture. By itself, the discourse of inclusivity may not have been sufcient to silence critics and create positive associations between landcare, sustainability and chemical agriculture. However, many of the seemingly neutral activities in which community landcare groups typically engage rely on technologies of power-knowledge that effectively black box chemical use making its use appear normal and inevitable. Involvement in farm and catchment planning, for example, was demonstrated in one study (see Lockie, 1997d) to lead to increased rates of synthetic input use. While there is no necessary connection between planning and chemical use, the collection and organization of data (through soil tests, pasture monitoring, nancial record-keeping, etc.) can only inform planning following the application of some sort of interpretive frame. In the case of agriculture, most of these frames are constructed through the eld trials of departments of agriculture and agribusiness agencies. These trials are not, on the whole, fertility or pest management trials but fertilizer and pesticide application trials (Lockie, 1999b). When confronted by the question of how to interpret apparently objective information collected during farm planning, it is no great surprise that increased input use appears the most rational course of action. Rejecting this interpretive frame is a risky step, separating the individual farmer from the support of peers, government and industry advisers, and billions of dollars in research and development. The provision of sponsorship, materials, information, technical support, etc. has been used to enact action at a distance in a situation where agrichemical companies have no direct means of control. The landcare movement is not only performed when members attend community group meetings, but when they spray weeds and spread fertilizer. This has contributed to an ordering of agricultural practices in ways that are consistent with corporate interests while minimizing opposition from conservation organizations otherwise highly critical of chemical agriculture.

Conclusion: relational-materialism and social movements


Rejection of the society/nature dualism challenges contemporary social movement theory on two fronts. First, the radically relational conceptualization of the social that theoretically follows from such a rejection calls into question a number of the analytical concepts used in contemporary social movement theory; especially those related to the structural preconditions for mobilization or action and to disembodied notions of collective subjects. Second, the mobilization of activist networks around concepts of environmental justice and biopolitics, who themselves reject the

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society/nature dualism, calls into question both the validity of analyses made of them as exclusively social movements and the ability of contemporary theory to engage with them in politically constructive ways. It has been argued here that the relational approach of SSK may contribute to our understanding of collective action by offering both a non-dualist conceptualization of collective agency and a range of conceptual tools with which to unpack the dynamics of power and agency within the hybrid collectives popularly identied as social movements. As argued above, a relational approach suggests that the key theoretical task is not to dene or explain social movements, but to explore the ways in which localized practices that sum up and order interactions across space and time are implemented and sustained; to how, in other words, networks perform social movements. The language of social movements is used all too easily to construct black boxes of collective subjectivity and action by proponents and opponents alike. Answering the question of who attempts to speak on behalf of movements, using what technologies and in pursuit of what goals, is of great theoretical and political importance. While the stabilization of networks is seldom consensual, there is much to be done to draw out those elements of network construction that are obscured by the collective notion of the movement and the costs that are imposed on actants by dint of their membership or non-membership of the networks that underlie this abstraction. As we have seen in the case of the landcare movement, the enrolment of conservation organizations in what is constructed as an inclusive, community-based approach to rural environmental degradation has limited their ability to publicly oppose agri-chemical companies drawn also into this network, or to open the black boxes of agri-science that make chemical use appear inevitable and rational.

References
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Biographical note
Stewart Lockie is Director of the Centre for Social Science Research at Central Queensland University. His research interests lie in the sociology of food and agriculture, natural resource management and social impact assessment. Associate Professor Lockie is co-editor of a number of recent books including Rurality Bites: The Social and Environmental Transformation of Rural Australia (Sydney: Pluto Press), Consuming Foods, Sustaining Environments (Brisbane: Australian Academic Press) and Environment, Society and Natural Resource Management (Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar). With Professor Geoffrey Lawrence and Dr Kristen Lyons he is currently preparing a book based on the outcomes of their ARC-funded research into the greening of food networks. Address: Centre for Social Science Research, Central Queensland University, Rockhampton QLD 4702, Australia. [email: s.lockie@cqu.edu.au]