Social Innovation - the Core of the Conversion to Organic

Monday, 11 July 2016: 14:45
Location: Prominentenzimmer (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Valentin FIALA, University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Austria
Bernhard FREYER, University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Austria
Jim BINGEN, Michigan State University, USA
Social innovation (i.e. the rise and diffusion of new social practices or development of new interactions between individuals or groups) is at the core of the conversion from conventional to organic farming. Social innovation enables these technical and economic innovations associated with conversion, but it can also arise from the organic technical innovations themselves. Conversion means at least a fundamental change of the social as well as the material system.

Drawing on three focus group discussions with organic farmers and other key actors in Minnesota organic farming during 2011, this paper explores how the materiality of converting to organic practices leads to different socio-technical conversion strategies among farmers. We show how practices change after conversion and which new social practices can arise. We also draw attention to the significance of the state (governmental rules and regulations) that set conditions for this process and related practices.

We suppose that identifying materiality is key to understanding social innovations. Materiality at least creates new sites of the social (see practice theory). As a social innovation, the conversion to organic farming is intertwined with numerous material and political conditions. New practices, such as the direct marketing via box schemes or CSAs, give rise to new consumer – producer relations that affect the economic survival of the farm as well as the wellbeing of consumers. Similarly, social and political conditions influence decisions to adopt such practices.

Based on the focus group discussions, we give examples how a change in actual – partly policy influenced - food and farming practices can bring forward changes in broader social networks a wider social practices. Doing so we hope to contribute to the further development of the concept of social innovation by rooting it in changes of material based day to day practices connected with the conversion of organic.