The transformation of organic agriculture from a fringe movement to a multi-billion dollar international industry has been accompanied by concurrent transformation of agrarian communities, food system economics and consumer preferences. Sociological perspectives of organic agriculture: from pioneer to policy offers an examination of these transformations. Each of the 18 chapters provides a sociological case study using a different theoretical framework. The volume sticks to its title regarding sociological perspectives; there is very little mention of the technical agronomic aspects of organic production systems.
The editors indicate in the introduction that the book is divided into five sections, though unfortunately the sections are not indicated in the table of contents. The sections described by the editors are 1. “organic movements in North West Europe”, 2. “organic food quality and the consumer”, 3. “problems for organic farmers around the globe”, 4. “principles and practice of organic farming”, and 5. “new directions for organic sector development”. The chapters cover a range of topics, including the particular role of women and feminism in organic agriculture (Chapters 4 and 12), consumer perceptions and economic valuation of organic products (Chapters 5–7), changes in sectoral structure (Chapters 8–10), the effects of organic agriculture on rural development (Chapters 14 and 15), farmer decision-making and motivations (Chapters 2, 11 and 13) and the interactions of organic agriculture with public policy (Chapters 3, 16–18).
Each chapter focuses on a particular case study and employs a different analytical framework. The diversity of the chapters is simultaneously a strength and weakness of the volume. This breadth of diversity sometimes contributes to a lack of coherence between chapters. The sections described by the editors seem somewhat forced, and because each of the chapters describes a unique case study, the sense of continuity running throughout volume is weak. However, the chapters also illustrate the breadth of theoretical and methodological diversity within rural sociology. The chapters are variably interpretive, qualitative and quantitative; they examine their topics from personal, farm, food system and policy levels. In this way, the book does an excellent job at representing the range of analytical frameworks contained in contemporary rural sociology.
Although the book claims a global coverage of organic agriculture, the vast majority of the chapters are focused on North West Europe, and nearly half the chapters are from the UK, Ireland or Scandinavia. Exceptions to the European focus include chapters on organic agriculture in South Africa, Brazil, Australia, and New Zealand. Chapter 7, with the book’s most intriguing title, motorcyclists in the USA and the UK: risk perception of local and organic food, is the only chapter that references organic agriculture in North America. Of course, the European focus is not a weakness, but anyone looking for a balanced coverage of organic agricultural systems around the world may be disappointed. For anyone interested in a single resource on the social aspects of organic agriculture in Europe, this is a solid choice.
This book will be of interest to graduate students and researchers who want to know more about the variety of theoretical approaches that contemporary rural sociology is taking on the rise of organic agricultural systems, especially in Europe. This book would also be a useful resource for an upper-level undergraduate class focused on the social science of organic agriculture.