Issues, Resources, Strategies: A Field-level Analysis of National Agrifood Organizations

Open Access
Eshleman, John T
Graduate Program:
Rural Sociology
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
February 24, 2016
Committee Members:
  • Cynthia Clare Hinrichs, Dissertation Advisor
  • Kathryn Jo Brasier, Committee Member
  • Leland Luther Glenna, Committee Member
  • John David Mccarthy, Committee Member
  • Carolyn Elizabeth Sachs, Committee Member
  • social movements
  • organizations
  • alternative agrifood movements
Agrifood scholars have described current Alternative Agrifood Movements (AAMs) as convergent efforts to challenge the status quo agrifood system that are nonetheless characterized by diverse foci which potentially limit their prospects to form a cohesive challenge. Organizations play a key role in mobilization processes, but a systematic empirical examination of the organizations that comprise AAMs and the specific ways they converge and diverge across many AAMs is lacking. Clarifying patterns of convergence and divergence in the AAM organizational field is a necessary step to understanding the mobilization potential of these movements. This research investigated how patterns of issue selection among a sample of U.S. national agrifood organizations (N=690) manifested convergence and diversity in an agrifood field that included both AAM organizations and their potential opponents. The research applied cluster analysis techniques to categorize the organizational field by the combination of issues an organization selected—or issue orientation—to demonstrate the diverse organizational perspectives on agrifood issues. These clusters corresponded to the mesomobilization potential of organizations with similar issue orientations, and comparison tests of resource capacity and strategy measures demonstrated variation across clusters. Negative binomial regression analyses modeled issue orientation as a predictor of a social movement outcome—gaining acceptance—that was operationalized as providing testimony on agrifood topics at Congressional hearings. Results showed that national agrifood organizations broadly fit into clusters of either Status Quo, AAM, or diet-related health/food security issue orientations. At a more fine-grain level, a second cluster solution demonstrated that AAMs and diet-related health/food security clusters were comprised of five distinct sub-clusters that revealed further patterns of issue diversity in the field, corresponding to varied resource levels and strategic approaches that characterized the mesomobilization potential of each cluster. Although in bivariate tests, Status Quo agrifood organizations were more likely than all other clusters to provide Congressional testimony in both cluster solutions, when controlling for resources and strategies, environmentally-focused AAM organizations were similar to Status Quo organizations in being significantly more likely than other sub-clusters to gain acceptance through Congressional hearings. This research developed a unique inventory of national agrifood organizations across a range of issues and demonstrated complex patterns of convergence and divergence among national-level agrifood organizations that can inform practitioner knowledge about their potential to work across diverse issues and gain access to political leaders.