Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Environmental Management


School of Natural Sciences


Faculty of Computing, Health and Science

First Advisor

Professor Pierre Horwitz


Farmers in Australia and elsewhere face the challenge of remaining profitable whilst dealing with adverse structural arrangements and public expectations to better manage environmental degradation. This thesis draws on arguments that dominant paradigms in agricultural science and environmental management have often been ineffective in addressing these apparently competing demands and appear poorly suited to ‘messy’ situations characterized by uncertainty and complexity, and in which diverse stakeholders are motivated by varying goals and values. Engaging with such situations requires a philosophy and methodology that accepts a multiplicity of perspectives and which seeks to learn about and reflect upon novel ways of thinking and acting. Among the underlying ideas that have shaped this project is the importance of recognising the assumptions and commitments that researchers bring to their practice in order that traditions are not uncritically reproduced and that the products of our thinking are not reified. Regarding farming as less a set of technical practices and more as a human activity taking place within broader economic, social, cultural and ecological contexts, I sought to engage a group of farmers in southern Western Australia in a process of taking action to address an issue of common concern that would help them to live and farm well in their district. My role as both researcher and facilitator of conversations was driven by a commitment to dialogue as a process of meaning making and relationship building. Together we explored some of the broader contexts within which the narrower conceptions of economic and ecological problems are often uncritically placed. Taking concrete action together however proved beyond the scope of my research. The challenge of feeding ourselves while better caring for the land and each other will require imaginative as well as technical resources. To this end I have also sought to sketch out some of the creative possibilities contained within the health metaphor as it is applied to soil, arguing that its use as a proxy for quality or condition fails to utilize its disruptive potential.

Included in

Agriculture Commons


Paper Location