Social, Economic and Environmental Justice: A Network Analysis of Sustainable Agriculture in Pennsylvania

Open Access
Trauger, Amy Kathryn
Graduate Program:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
January 14, 2005
Committee Members:
  • Melissa Wright, Committee Member
  • Carolyn Elizabeth Sachs, Committee Member
  • Cynthia Ann Brewer, Committee Chair
  • James Mc Carthy, Committee Member
  • sustainable agriculture
  • social justice
  • networks
Agriculture and rural communities in the United States are in a period of decline, but sustainability movements in rural communities show promise for revitalizing both rural communities and agriculture as a sector. Sustainable agriculture is committed to the ?triple-bottom-line? of social, economic and environmental justice, in which social equality, economic profitability and environmental soundness are emphasized. These discourses of justice, however, are not always translated into the practices of organizations committed to sustainability, according to some critics. This dissertation seeks to investigate how the sustainable agriculture social movement in Pennsylvania articulates these discourses and translates them into practice. The framework I use for this analysis includes a network ontology, which emphasizes social change through connection. I studied three groups (or networks) in Pennsylvania: a marketing cooperative, a women?s group and a farm based education program. The methods for the analysis are primarily qualitative, but include visualizing and analyzing social networks and political agency through the use of geographic visualization technologies. The research concludes that sustainable agriculture in Pennsylvania is committed to social change and the triple-bottom-line, but these ideals are translated rather imperfectly into the practices of individuals and groups. Organic agriculture as a technical practice of sustainable agriculture is promoted as a way to obtain price premiums for farmers. Organic agriculture supports environmentally friendly practices, and helps farmers stay in business, but reproduces some of the social injustices of conventional agriculture, such as the exploitation of labor. Women in conventional agriculture are traditionally marginalized from spaces of knowledge and power, because they are not seen as ?real? farmers. Efforts to provide education and agency to women in sustainable agriculture also fall prey to identity politics based on who qualifies as a farmer. Farm-based education programs designed to spread knowledge about environmentally friendly farming practices also translate well into productivist models when an emphasis is on technical practices, rather than on community and holistic farm management. In summary, the networks facilitate the pursuit of justice, but confront obstacles regarding ?who belongs,? the scale of the organization, and the length of the network.