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Organic Farming and the Routinization of Subversion

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Abstract:

Recent scholarship on the “conventionalization thesis,” applied to organic farming, asserts that the growth of organic food production and consumption from a small niche market into a multi-billion-dollar global industry indicates corporate co-optation. The transition from grassroots to mainstream is an important aspect of the organic movement. The organic campaign can be read as a cultural resistance movement that, due to its success, has had to deal with what Max Weber called the “routinization of charisma.” Critics of this metamorphosis in organic farming have often ignored how contradictions embedded in organic ideals have, since their inception, served to accommodate the movement to the conventional food system.
My historical analysis reveals that the organic movement in the United States was never as radical or subversive as devotees claim. The movement grappled with the costs and benefits of accommodating to the mass market for decades. Instead of insisting that mainstream agriculture pay for the externalities that are currently absorbed by society at large, or that the government subsidize organic agriculture, the organic alliance often focused on convincing consumers to engage in “green consumption.” An emphasis on consumption rather than production led to individualization of responsibility, rather than systemic reform. This allowed individuals, organizations, and the government to evade accountability for truly making agriculture—or consumption itself—sustainable. The current state of organic food and farming reflects this complicated struggle within the movement.
This paper analyzes the history and cultural significance of the organic agriculture movement in the United States. The social embeddedness of organic production and consumption are considered, from agricultural pioneers in the 1940s to the contemporary consumer landscape. Jerome Irving Rodale is a foundational figure in the organic canon. Rodale popularized organic agriculture in the United States through his books and magazines. This paper examines Rodale’s work in a cultural context, from the 1940s to 1960s. It highlights his legacy in terms of the direction that organic food and farming has taken. It also addresses contemporary organic food consumption, identity construction through purchases, and critiques of class and elitism that have plagued the organic food alliance. I apply discourse analysis, iconographic study, and cultural analysis to texts and other forms of media within the organic movement.
This paper contributes to ongoing debates over sustainable agriculture, green consumption, and popular constructions of nature. It informs further explorations of the dialectic between cultural production and consumer agency. It places the organic movement in the context of broader environmental, economic, cultural, ethical and historical issues in American society. I also analyze organic agriculture as an international phenomenon, with cross-cultural exchange between many nations at various stages of organic development.
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Name: The American Studies Association
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URL: http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p185540_index.html
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MLA Citation:

O'Sullivan, Robin. "Organic Farming and the Routinization of Subversion" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the The American Studies Association, Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, Philadelphia, PA, Oct 11, 2007 <Not Available>. 2013-12-15 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p185540_index.html>

APA Citation:

O'Sullivan, R. , 2007-10-11 "Organic Farming and the Routinization of Subversion" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the The American Studies Association, Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, Philadelphia, PA <Not Available>. 2013-12-15 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p185540_index.html

Publication Type: Conference Paper/Unpublished Manuscript
Abstract: Recent scholarship on the “conventionalization thesis,” applied to organic farming, asserts that the growth of organic food production and consumption from a small niche market into a multi-billion-dollar global industry indicates corporate co-optation. The transition from grassroots to mainstream is an important aspect of the organic movement. The organic campaign can be read as a cultural resistance movement that, due to its success, has had to deal with what Max Weber called the “routinization of charisma.” Critics of this metamorphosis in organic farming have often ignored how contradictions embedded in organic ideals have, since their inception, served to accommodate the movement to the conventional food system.
My historical analysis reveals that the organic movement in the United States was never as radical or subversive as devotees claim. The movement grappled with the costs and benefits of accommodating to the mass market for decades. Instead of insisting that mainstream agriculture pay for the externalities that are currently absorbed by society at large, or that the government subsidize organic agriculture, the organic alliance often focused on convincing consumers to engage in “green consumption.” An emphasis on consumption rather than production led to individualization of responsibility, rather than systemic reform. This allowed individuals, organizations, and the government to evade accountability for truly making agriculture—or consumption itself—sustainable. The current state of organic food and farming reflects this complicated struggle within the movement.
This paper analyzes the history and cultural significance of the organic agriculture movement in the United States. The social embeddedness of organic production and consumption are considered, from agricultural pioneers in the 1940s to the contemporary consumer landscape. Jerome Irving Rodale is a foundational figure in the organic canon. Rodale popularized organic agriculture in the United States through his books and magazines. This paper examines Rodale’s work in a cultural context, from the 1940s to 1960s. It highlights his legacy in terms of the direction that organic food and farming has taken. It also addresses contemporary organic food consumption, identity construction through purchases, and critiques of class and elitism that have plagued the organic food alliance. I apply discourse analysis, iconographic study, and cultural analysis to texts and other forms of media within the organic movement.
This paper contributes to ongoing debates over sustainable agriculture, green consumption, and popular constructions of nature. It informs further explorations of the dialectic between cultural production and consumer agency. It places the organic movement in the context of broader environmental, economic, cultural, ethical and historical issues in American society. I also analyze organic agriculture as an international phenomenon, with cross-cultural exchange between many nations at various stages of organic development.

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