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Abstract

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Institutional voids, rural differentiation and the rules of policy-making
  5. BTB and the institutional void
  6. Rescaling epidemiological space
  7. Reterritorialising epidemiological space
  8. Conclusion
  9. Acknowledgements
  10. References

This article explores the links between biosecurity policy and rural differentiation. It attempts to show how biosecurity policy has been fundamentally affected by uncertainty over the rules of the game of policy-making – what Hajer has called the ‘institutional void’. In particular, the article attempts to show how this void has created a new political space in which the traditional practices of dealing with animal disease have been challenged and reshaped. Crucial to this is a discourse of partnership that permits new actors and forms of expertise to construct different approaches to biosecurity at new spatial scales. These actions legitimate a new spatiality of disease control, thereby contributing to the differentiation of the countryside. The article uses a case-study of policy attempts to control the spread of bovine tuberculosis in England and Wales.


Introduction

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Institutional voids, rural differentiation and the rules of policy-making
  5. BTB and the institutional void
  6. Rescaling epidemiological space
  7. Reterritorialising epidemiological space
  8. Conclusion
  9. Acknowledgements
  10. References

This article considers the links between biosecurity policy and the differentiation of rural space by applying Maarten Hajer's (2003) concept of the institutional void to the development of a biosecurity policy for bovine tuberculosis (bTB) in the UK. The concept of the institutional void highlights three related concerns important to the development of biosecurity policy, but which also have wider relevance to other rural policy domains. These include, firstly, challenges to and uncertainty over the rules and logic of policy-making; secondly, the rescaling of decision-making (as a result of devolution and multilevel governance) and thirdly, the role of expertise in producing new spaces of and for biosecurity. In particular, the article focuses on the biosecurity logic of the need for one epidemiological space to manage bTB, and how an institutional void opens up to threaten this logic. By focusing on the attempts to resolve the institutional void the article shows how various discourses of expertise are deployed at different spatial scales to lay claim to and reconstruct the spatial rules of biosecurity. These actions legitimate new kinds of biosecurity logic that include a new spatiality of disease control, thereby contributing to the differentiation of the countryside.

Hajer's concept of the institutional void links well to the literature on the differentiated countryside (Murdoch et al. 2003). This is because both stress the way in which changes to social, political and economic networks produce new spaces and ways of being. However, to date few studies have sought to link the biosecurity policy with the differentiated countryside. This may because biosecurity policy tends to exert forces of spatial homogeneity (Larsen 2009) yet the potential contribution that biosecurity policy makes to differentiating the countryside has become increasingly obvious. Recent events, such as the 2001 foot and mouth outbreak in the UK, have writ large the central role that animal diseases and biosecurity policies play in reordering the countryside (Donaldson et al. 2002; Donaldson and Wood 2004; Ward et al. 2004; Woods 2004; Murdoch 2005). The heterogeneous orderings of rural space are shaped by the spatial segregations inherent in modes of biosecurity (Law 2006; Hinchliffe 2007; Enticott 2008a). Infected nature – animals, plants, insects but also people and materials – is subject to policies of spatial control, confinement and, in many cases, extermination in an attempt to purify them. When biosecurity policies fail it is the subjects and objects of rural space that feel the effects (Convery et al. 2008).

In seeking to understand how rural space and societies are configured, a good place to start is through an examination of how biosecurity policies are themselves constructed, the conditions on which they are based and the forces that shape them. This article attempts to do so by documenting the changes in the spatial logic of biosecurity policy. To do this, however, firstly requires a definition of what biosecurity actually is. This is not an easy task for its practices, actors, purpose and spatial scale vary widely (Bingham et al. 2008; Donaldson 2008). Broadly, biosecurity might be conceived of as a mode of organising (Law 1994), or more precisely, multiple modes of securing agricultural space and animals from infectious diseases (Hinchliffe 2007). In this article biosecurity refers to those practices, routines and technologies that are used to control the mobility of animal diseases. This still embraces a range of different and complex practices but specifically includes the practice of screening cattle for diseases, stamping out disease vectors, and methods of encouraging good practice to prevent disease transmission. Different combinations of these forms of biosecurity order the social and natural ecology of rural space in different ways (Murdoch 2005).

To examine the links between biosecurity and rural differentiation, this article turns to policy attempts to manage the problem of bTB in the UK. The disease has long afflicted farming (Waddington 2006) and affects farmed cattle and wildlife, notably badgers. As a zoonosis, bTB also represents a public health hazard (further background on the disease can be found in Enticott [2001, 2008a, 2008b]; and Independent Scientific Group [2007]). The article is structured as follows. Firstly, it focuses on the importance of rules to policy-making, their challenge through what Hajer (2003) describes as the institutional void, and the importance of discourse and scale for its solutions. Secondly, it applies the concept of the institutional void to the development of bTB policy since 1997, arguing that devolution and civil society challenged two fundamental forms of logic of disease control: the need for a single epidemiological space and the primacy of scientific authority. Thirdly, it shows how policy discourses of partnership and expertise were invoked to fill the institutional void, leading to new forms of logic and approaches to biosecurity policy. Finally, the article considers how these biosecurity policies contribute to differentiating the countryside.

Institutional voids, rural differentiation and the rules of policy-making

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Institutional voids, rural differentiation and the rules of policy-making
  5. BTB and the institutional void
  6. Rescaling epidemiological space
  7. Reterritorialising epidemiological space
  8. Conclusion
  9. Acknowledgements
  10. References

Marsden et al. (1993, p. 185) suggest that different versions of rural space emerge from a ‘complex assemblage of economic, social and political elements ... present at the local, regional, national or international scales’. In their view, the interaction between political, economic and social networks makes claims on rural space and results in a regionalised and differentiated countryside (Murdoch et al. 2003, p. 141). These interactions are shaped by the strata of historical events embedded in place (Massey 1995) thereby creating social and political conventions (Storper and Salais 1997; Thevenot 2002). These localised practices interact with top-down pressures, such as national political power, to produce a differentiated countryside. Murdoch et al. (2003) conclude that the spatial outcomes of rural policy are never simply a result of top-down or bottom-up pressures, but the interaction of both.

The construction of these spatial formations is accelerated by what Brenner (2001) calls the process of scaling. This refers to the constant re-organisation and recalibration of space in which it is successively ‘territorialized, deterrritorialized and reterritorialized’ (Brenner 1998, p. 464) by the state or capital as they attempt to secure their interests. The process of scaling leads to the discursive ‘production of differential spatial units’ but also highlights their ‘embeddedness and positionalities in relation to a multitude of smaller or larger spatial units within a multitiered, hierarchically configured geographical scaffolding’ (Brenner 2001, p. 600). This hierarchical organisation of spatial scales unfolds materially and discursively, and is referred to as a scalar fix (Smith 1995; Swyngedouw 2000). Scalar fixes therefore include the emergence of new forms of multi-level governance (Macleod and Goodwin 1999) through which the geographical scales of governance evolve, positioning interlocking discourses at various scales to accumulate and maintain hierarchical power.

The processes of rescaling expose policy-making to a greater number of social and economic pressures. This leads to greater contestation of policy-making between actors and uncertainty in governments about how policy can and should be made. Hajer (2003) captures these destabilising effects in the notion of the institutional void. In an era when transnational, polycentric networks of governance have brought a new spatiality to policy-making, decision-making dispersed across an international civil society, and the authority of traditional scientific expertise eroded by a lack of trust, Hajer suggests that it is simply not clear any more how policy should be made or who should be making it. As a result, ‘there are no clear rules and norms according to which politics is to be conducted and policy measures are to be agreed upon’ (Hajer 2003, p. 175).

The presence of an institutional void therefore calls into question what March and Olsen (1989, 1995) call forms of logic of appropriateness. These represent the behavioural rules that are natural, rightful, expected and legitimate because they are embedded within social collectives and guide institutional decision-making and behaviour. These forms of logic highlight the importance of the discursive framing of policy-making which provides hierarchies of ‘norms and codes for interpreting problems and guiding behaviour within the policy process ... to guide actors down certain paths rather than others’ (Griggs and Howarth 2002, p. 106). Similarly, Hajer (1995) conceptualises these shared beliefs as discourse coalitions –‘ensembles of story lines, actors and practices which generate particular ways of thinking and acting within discrete policy domains’ (Murdoch 2004, p. 50).

An institutional void does not mean that state institutions become redundant or that there is no longer any logic to institutional behaviour. Rather, it signifies the emergence of new political spaces and discourses in which actors can ‘negotiate new institutional rules, develop new norms of appropriate behaviour and devise new conceptions of legitimate political intervention’ (Hajer 2003, p. 176). Policy-making then becomes a site of ‘cultural politics, at which people reflect upon who they are, what they want and to what extent they have shared cultural adherences’ (p. 183). In this way, both policy and polity become dependent on the outcome of discursive interactions.

The institutional void therefore points to three key points of inquiry. Firstly, it leads to a general focus on discourse in policy-making and on how problems and solutions are discursively produced and rendered governable (Feindt and Oels 2005). Specifically, it directs attention to those discourses implicated in the creation of new norms and policy approaches and the discourses actors use to get favourable solutions for particular problems (Hajer and Versteeg 2005). In the new political spaces that result from the institutional void the processes that constitute new rules, what these new rules are, which actors are involved and how different actors play distinctive roles are crucial questions.

Secondly, a consideration of discourse alerts us to the role of specific technologies and expertise used to renegotiate the rules of biosecurity. The type of discourse analysis associated with Foucault's concept of governmentality can help here. The important point raised by Foucault is that government is tied to expertise (Murdoch 2006, p. 43). Governmentality therefore represents the organised practices (mentalities, rationalities and techniques) through which subjects are governed (Dean 1999). Power is achieved through a combination of political rationalities and technologies of government: ‘programmes, calculations, techniques, apparatuses, documents and procedures through which authorities seek to embody and give effect to governmental ambitions’ (Rose and Miller 1992, p. 175). These technologies represent forms of discourse that institute particular courses of action and allow certain forms of expertise to render problems visible and governable. However, in the institutional void, traditional forms of government expertise can come unstuck. Which forms of expertise then emerge to guide the new forms of biosecurity logic are of significant interest.

Thirdly, the discursive reconstruction of the rules of biosecurity alerts us to questions of space and scale. Foucauldian analyses of governmentality recognise that discourses also have spatial effects, both at the micro and macro level, which are indelibly linked to expertise. Murdoch and Ward (1997), for example, show how statistical calculations not only help to bring representations of rural territory into being but reterritorialise rural space by leading to new agricultural practices that are aligned to new government objectives. This process of de/reterritorialisation may also be achieved by scaled discourses. For example, in their analysis of urban water politics, Keil and Debbané (2005) show how different discourses become attached to different scales in order to achieve policy goals. Thus, changes to government structures that applied universal water-pricing policies across the urban scale become tied up with discourses of sustainable development, while discourses of citizenship and nation-building are deployed at the scale of the household to promote water conservation. Similarly, the new rules of biosecurity that emerge from the institutional void are therefore likely to de/reterritorialise space, provide new representations and situate different biosecurity discourses at different spatial scales.

In seeking to reveal how biosecurity contributes to the differentiation of rural space, Hajer's concept of the institutional void suggests that attention is focused on how the traditional forms of the biosecurity logic of governance have become destabilised; how new forms of biosecurity logic are discursively produced and how these forms of logic may come to rest within or re-organise the particular scalar fixes of biosecurity. The remainder of this article explores these questions using the example of bTB. Methodologically, the article relies on an analysis of the discourses supporting biosecurity policies and programmes in England and Wales between 1997 and 2009. Content analysis was used to examine key documents produced by policymakers in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and the Welsh Assembly Government (WAG), scientists and other stakeholders in England and Wales. These included policy documents, scientific reports, evidence submitted to parliamentary inquiries and minutes of scientific committees. Public meetings involving policymakers, scientists and stakeholders were also attended. These data were supplemented by interviewing scientists, policymakers and stakeholders associated with bTB policy between 2006 and 2008.

BTB and the institutional void

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Institutional voids, rural differentiation and the rules of policy-making
  5. BTB and the institutional void
  6. Rescaling epidemiological space
  7. Reterritorialising epidemiological space
  8. Conclusion
  9. Acknowledgements
  10. References

Policy documents and interview data suggest that there are at least two overriding ‘forms of logic of appropriateness’ to the governance of bTB. The first is that disease policy needs to be applied consistently within a single bounded epidemiological spatial unit. The epidemiological unit defines the most appropriate space and scale in which disease control policies should operate. While some epidemiological spaces may be demarcated by natural features such as mountain ranges and rivers, the island status of the UK makes defining its epidemiological unit convenient and straightforward. This biosecurity logic also provides that the institutional scales of disease control should be aligned with epidemiological space. This provides a straightforward, spatially undifferentiated approach to decision-making. This biosecurity spatial logic is captured by the maxim constantly expressed by policymakers and vets that ‘animal diseases don't respect political boundaries’. The implication is that a unified spatial approach is needed in the UK to manage animal disease.

The second logic of biosecurity is that decisions about disease control policies need to be taken using veterinary science. This form of expert knowledge provides the basis for knowing which courses of action are the most suitable and for developing veterinary tools such as vaccines and tests to identify the presence of disease. The importance of veterinary science also helps to provide institutional and professional authority to justify and deliver disease control policies. Thus, when the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food commissioned a review of bTB policy in 1996, its terms of reference were to find a solution based on ‘sound science rather than folklore and guesswork’ (Krebs quoted in Select Committee on Agriculture 1999, para 2). The review (Krebs et al. 1997) recommended that policy should be based on the outcomes of a new scientific experiment to be run by an independent scientific group – in order to estimate the causal links between culling badgers and levels of bTB in cattle. Such actions therefore reaffirmed a discourse of governing nature through scientific authority (Enticott 2001).

Both of these kinds of logic of appropriateness are consistent with classical modernist policy-making (Hajer 2003). They provide clear rules as to how policy should be made, the scale at which it should be applied and who should be making decisions. However, in attempting to make policy to prevent the spread of bTB these certainties became subject to the same pressures as predicted in Hajer's model of the institutional void.

Firstly, the National Federation of Badger Groups (NFGB) challenged the legitimacy of the scientific approach. Not only did these actors suggest that the Independent Scientific Group's scientific data would be insufficient to answer the policy question (Select Committee on Agriculture 1999), but they also jumped policy scales by complaining to the Standing Committee of the Bern Convention (NFGB 1998). The Bern Convention provides legal protection for a variety of endangered species, including badgers, across European states through its incorporation into the European Union's Habitat Directive 92/43/EEC (European Commission 1992). The NFBG argued that the experiment was in breach of the convention because it would result in the local disappearance of badgers. In the event, the protest failed, but not before it highlighted the complex spatiality of disease control governance.

Secondly, the scientific experiment became disrupted by protest at local levels. Some landowners refused to participate, thereby frustrating the intention to cull badgers across unbroken tracts of land. The cage traps used to catch badgers were tampered with by protestors, affecting the rate at which badgers could be culled. The aim was to disrupt the experiment to such an extent that the results would be meaningless. The scientists in the Independent Scientific Group running the experiment claimed otherwise, stating a trapping efficiency rate of 80% (Independent Scientific Group 2007). However, when the results suggested that culling badgers should not play any role in bTB policy, it was the farming unions rather than the conservationists that suggested the poor trapping efficiencies invalidated the scientific results (see EFRA 2008).

Thirdly, the results of the scientific experiment were challenged by politicians and officials in DEFRA. According to the scientists running the experiment, the government sought to undermine their credibility. In interviews, scientists and members of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs parliamentary select committee suggested that these actions were the result of tensions over which experts and forms of expertise should have control over policy-making. This politics of expertise (Wilkinson 2006) stemmed from the outbreak of foot and mouth disease in 2001 which created tensions between the different styles of reasoning in veterinary science (Bickerstaff and Simmons 2004): the intervention of epidemiological scientists brought a new style of scientific reasoning to animal disease management, but in doing so sidelined the role of traditional veterinary expertise in government policy.

This damage to the reputation of DEFRA's own veterinary officials rebounded on the scientists conducting the bTB experiments. Interview data with scientists and politicians suggest that relationships between the scientists and DEFRA deteriorated after 2001 as veterinary staff and policymakers sought to reassert their expertise in government and challenge the significance of the scientists' epidemiological style of reasoning. For the scientists this was publicly demonstrated when their results were misrepresented in a public consultation exercise on badger culling (DEFRA 2005a). In particular, the scientists pointed out that DEFRA had ‘neither accurately portrayed nor carefully explored’ (Independent Scientific Group 2006, p. 1) the scientific basis for badger culling, presented figures on badger culling without any ‘sound scientific evidence’ (p. 2) and ignored other relevant scientific evidence in formulating the consultation document's proposals.

These tensions also stemmed from a scientific logic that challenged the traditional rules of who should take policy decisions. For the scientists, the experiment did not represent a traditional laboratory experiment which would need policy re-interpretation. This was because it already was a real-world policy experiment, subject to the kinds of societal influences that policymakers might traditionally take into account when assessing scientific evidence. In short, the science represented the only policy options available (cf. Latour 2004). However, to government officials it was clear that policy was their responsibility: scientific results needed to be re-interpreted in order to fit policy needs. This view of science was not shared by all. On being asked to review the science, the government's chief scientific officer, Sir David King, claimed that the scientists' conclusions were not based on their scientific evidence (King 2007). This was because the conclusions were scientifically impure: they had taken into account social and economic factors that should be a matter for ‘officials’ rather than scientists (King in EFRA 2008, p. ev88). For the scientists in the Independent Scientific Group the King report represented yet another government attack on their credibility (Bourne et al. 2008).

Fourthly, the spatial logic of disease control was challenged by the devolution of animal health powers to Wales and Scotland. Following the 1997 general election, responsibility over bTB policy was devolved to regional administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The established logic of ‘disease knowing no boundary’ and the need for policy consistency across epidemiological space was immediately threatened. This was particularly the case for Wales and England. While Scotland has extremely low levels of bTB, disease levels are highest in the south-west of England and southern Wales, particularly along the border between the two countries. The transfer of bTB powers to the WAG in 1999 therefore challenged the overriding spatial forms of logic to bTB control, raising questions of who should be thinking about and implementing solutions to bTB and how should they be doing it. For many bTB policymakers and scientists the challenge to the existing spatial logic for bTB policy led to disbelief, confusion and frustration:

Anybody who puts a border in an island to control animal disease has automatically made it worse, so I just think I don't really care what the Welsh Assembly Government think – I just wish they weren't thinking about it. (DEFRA official)

We live on the same island and having a little bit of it looked at separately and perhaps dealt with differently is just daft. (UK government scientist)

What is the right way to control bTB in the south-west of England, is likely to be very, very similar, if not the same, to the best option in Wales. (WAG official)

This confusion did not simply result from challenging the spatial logic of epidemiology, but also complicated the institutional arrangements of policy, research and delivery. Delivery of bTB policy was carried out by the State Veterinary Service (SVS), an executive agency responsible to DEFRA. While bTB policy was devolved, policy delivery was not. Who controlled the delivery of bTB policy in Wales therefore became uncertain. Moreover, the scientific research budgets for bTB also remained shared between England and Wales. Again, who controlled the resources to develop new policy initiatives was a matter of further uncertainty.

In many ways then, the development of bTB policy since 1997 is indicative of the facets of an institutional void. In following the classical modernist rules of policy-making, bTB policymakers were clear in the contribution that science should make and the spatial limits to their policy. However, disease control powers were dispersed to different layers of national and international government, and social movements and government actors would play a role in shaping the acceptability and trustworthiness of the scientific knowledge that was used for policy purposes. Finally, the advent of devolution created further confusion and uncertainty over the various roles of actors in different government institutions and their hitherto logic of appropriateness.

Rescaling epidemiological space

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Institutional voids, rural differentiation and the rules of policy-making
  5. BTB and the institutional void
  6. Rescaling epidemiological space
  7. Reterritorialising epidemiological space
  8. Conclusion
  9. Acknowledgements
  10. References

The institutional void opens up the prospect of new ways of approaching policy problems. Filling the void may involve the creation of new discourses defining what new rules and logic of behaviour are appropriate to resolving these uncertainties. At the same time, new or different groups of actors may be implicated in policy solutions. For bTB, the solution to the problems of the institutional void seemed to lie in a discourse of partnership. Hajer suggests that such deliberative spaces allow stakeholders to construct new forms of policy logic. In this case, however, the discourse of partnership appears to have been used by DEFRA as a means to maintain the pre-existing forms of spatial logic of disease control. Yet at the same time, the discourse of partnership also faced a number of challenges emanating from historical social, political and economic relations.

The response to the institutional rescaling of bTB policy came in the shape of a document entitled ‘Government strategic framework for the sustainable control of bovine tuberculosis in Great Britain’ (DEFRA 2005b). The document clearly established a discourse of partnership between all the government administrations responsible for bTB policy. In short, it suggested that without partnership, the control and eradication of bTB would never succeed. In her foreword to the framework document the Secretary of State Margaret Beckett stated that

The aim of the framework is to develop a new partnership ... so that Government and stakeholders can work together constructively to reduce the economic impact of bovine tuberculosis and maintain public health protection and animal health and welfare. (p. 7)

The document warned that as ‘bovine tuberculosis is a devolved issue ... Wales and Scotland could adopt differing policies’ (p. 44). However, working closely with the devolved administrations was a key priority for bTB policy: ‘DEFRA has worked closely with the devolved administrations in Wales and Scotland and have kept colleagues in Northern Ireland informed’ (p. 49). Thus, the partnership approach outlined in the framework document would ensure that ‘we have a good mechanism for co-ordinating our approaches to bovine tuberculosis in England, Scotland and Wales’ (p. 7). Sharing the foreword, the WAG agriculture minister re-affirmed this view:

I look forward to partnership working to achieve the long-term aims of this strategic framework for the control of bovine TB, which demands commitment, compromise and co-operation from all those involved. (p. 8)

DEFRA was keen to point out that government institutions would act in unison. On the one hand, DEFRA (2005b, p. 41) promised to ‘develop, deliver and enforce policies in partnership with delivery and enforcement bodies/agencies and those directly affected by the policies’. This approach would also result in more regionally sensitive policy delivery by the SVS, ‘working increasingly closely with the devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales, DEFRA and the Government Office network in the English regions’ (p. 41). Finally, the partnership approach envisaged by DEFRA included the establishment of a new national (UK) advisory group on bTB to ministers on policy options and ‘co-ordinate action taken in England, Wales and Scotland and ensure that decisions at national or regional level are made in accordance with the principles set out in this framework’ (p. 33).

In total, partnership is mentioned 24 times in the strategic framework. Of course, as Entwistle (2006) points out, the discourse of partnership has been a defining discourse of Labour governments since 1997. Not all of these referred to a partnership at an institutional scale, but also to one between farmers and the state. In applying the discourse of partnership to farmers and other actors at the farm scale, DEFRA sought to redefine animal health problems as a social problem. Crucial to this was attaching partnership to a neoliberal agenda of ‘cost and responsibility sharing’. By identifying partnership as a guiding principle of bTB policy, DEFRA (p. 15) therefore argued that ‘controlling bovine tuberculosis is not just a matter for Government. It requires continuing commitment from herd owners, veterinarians, wildlife conservation interests and food businesses, as well as Government’. While DEFRA identified farmers as key stakeholders who should feature in the partnership process, it also concluded that ‘Cattle farmers must, individually and collectively, take responsibility for managing risks to their herds from bTB’ and that

Farmers have not had sufficient incentive in all instances to adopt best practice in terms of biosecurity and husbandry for example. This must be addressed ... there is a strong case for industry, over time, bearing a progressively greater share of the costs of bovine tuberculosis controls. (p. 41).

Discourses of partnership therefore operated at different scales to provide scalar solutions to bTB. At the farm scale farmers are increasingly expected to assume the cost and day-to-day responsibility of managing animal disease. At an institutional scale the discourse of partnership acted as a means to maintain the logic of epidemiological space, and challenge the rescaling of bTB policy. However, the proposed institutional partnership was not without problems. Fundamentally, it failed to recognise how entrenched the traditional institutional logic of biosecurity policy had become. While the institutional void created uncertainty, actors responded by resorting to their traditional beliefs. Thus, although ‘at a high level everybody would agree for the need to co-ordinate and join this up, the problem is the practice’ (WAG official). This manifested itself in a number of ways.

Firstly, the logic of bTB policy focusing on just one epidemiological unit remained in the denial of access to research budgets and results. In other words, the new administration in Wales was unable to access research findings to help develop policy as DEFRA adopted a stringent gate-keeping role. For example:

[R]esearch is not devolved. So the majority of research that is taken on for bovine tuberculosis is commissioned on a central basis. It is commissioned by DEFRA and the reports go to DEFRA. So, for example, I know that there are drafts of reports from research, final reports from research that is in theory commissioned on a GB basis, that have been submitted to DEFRA, that I am not allowed to see because they have not been signed off yet. In theory that is GB research, but we are not allowed to see it. (WAG official)

The lack of trust and antagonism between the two administrations stemmed from Wales' initial refusal to become involved in the badger culling trial. Shortly after the trial started, politicians in the WAG changed their mind about participation and approached DEFRA again. They were told that they would now have to pay for the research themselves if they wanted it (interview data). The antagonism continued into sharing the results of the research. In interviews, WAG officials complained that DEFRA were concerned that ‘evidence, or information that's not in the public domain, that is given to the Welsh Assembly, will end up in the public domain’. At the same time however, the disparity between research resources between DEFRA and the WAG inevitably meant that any relationship would have to be parasitic:

Their bovine tuberculosis science branch sub-group is as big as our science group. So they lead on things, inevitably, they have the resources to pursue ... there is no getting away from that. (WAG official).

Similar problems of accessing resources and shaping activities were reported between officials in the WAG and those delivering policy in the SVS. To the WAG it appeared that those in the SVS continued to view DEFRA as their masters. Getting them to comply with new orders from the WAG appeared a difficult process at times (interview data). In dealing with both DEFRA and the SVS the institutional arrangements meant that in order for WAG officials to get anything done, they had no choice but to rely on informal contacts. Partnership working was not a given, but was based on the ability to forge and maintain tenuous social relations. Officials in SVS therefore complained that, ‘when Wales do something on their own which is different it tends to be less collaborative in the development of the policy’. For those in the WAG, this was a far from ideal environment in which to develop policy, as one official put it:

[I]t's not a very robust system when it only works because of personalities; it's all well and good while it's there, I mean I keep saying that to [SVS] ... the reason we're still talking to [them] and trying to get the relationships right in Wales is partly because [...] used to work for them (WAG official).

Secondly, the legislative contexts within which new biosecurity policies could be created differed between England and Wales. Even when there was agreement between administrations on the need for new biosecurity controls they could not be enacted simultaneously. The introduction of pre-movement testing provides one example of this. Here, the intention was to introduce compulsory testing of all cattle before they were sold to reduce the spread of bTB. While DEFRA were able to use parliamentary procedures to introduce new regulations quickly the procedure was more complicated and lengthy in the WAG. The danger of having two separate policies in England and Wales – the antithesis of the epidemiological logic – spurred the two administrations to work together to ensure that this did not happen. England slowed down the speed of their policy-making, while Wales promised to ‘try ever so hard to catch up’ (WAG official). In the end the policies were introduced weeks apart in the two administrations, prompting those involved to comment that ‘it was a good example when it was nonsense to have two separate administrations’ (DEFRA official).

If the partnership was to maintain the spatial logic of epidemiology, these examples raise some familiar questions over its effectiveness. From DEFRA's perspective, the spatial forms of logic of biosecurity were path-dependent (North 1990) – they continued to hold sway and determine the nature of partnership. While the spatial logic of epidemiology was consistent with – and even demanded – effective partnership working, the allocation of resources, mistrust of new institutions and political gate-keeping meant that the partnership envisaged by the bTB strategic framework was beset with problems. In short, the new scalar fix for biosecurity stuttered into being, reflecting what had gone on in the past and the dominance of centralised policy-making rather than a new discourse of partnership. As Brenner (2001, p. 607) points out:

scalar configurations are not infinitely malleable, even during phases of intensified, accelerated restructuring. Once scalar fixes are established within particular historical-geographical contexts, they frequently exercise powerful structuring effects upon the evolution of scales.

Reterritorialising epidemiological space

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Institutional voids, rural differentiation and the rules of policy-making
  5. BTB and the institutional void
  6. Rescaling epidemiological space
  7. Reterritorialising epidemiological space
  8. Conclusion
  9. Acknowledgements
  10. References

The discourse of animal health partnership retains the spatial logic of epidemiology to the cost of regional administrations like the WAG. However, the WAG nevertheless remained responsible for producing and implementing bTB policy. How could it do this? One option would have been to follow DEFRA's lead. This would have been entirely logical as it would have preserved the spatial, institutional and scientific forms of logic that had traditionally solved such problems. To a certain extent this is what happened: officials and politicians in WAG suggested that a partnership approach to biosecurity policy was vital. Politicians sought to connect new policy announcements with the partnership between institutions. Officials in the WAG argued that partnership was ‘not just important so we can work together but so we don't work against each other’. They recognised that the institutional framework was of benefit to them both in terms of providing resources, but also because of the spatial logic of epidemiology:

[W]e are extremely grateful for the support that DEFRA provide in being able to deliver policies. It is after all the same disease. It doesn't recognise boundaries. (WAG official)

[T]he idea that we should do something different in Wales purely because we should do something different is a high risk strategy if what you are trying to do is the best thing. (WAG official)

[W]e've done very few things differently because we're working from the same principle.... I would like to think that in the future they will. At the moment we are probably more reliant on them. (WAG official)

However, alongside the acceptance of the institutional partnership, the WAG began to organise a set of interlocking discourses through which a new Welsh scale of biosecurity would emerge. The emergence of this scalar fix seems inevitable, given the different socio-political context in Wales and the continued rise of cases of bTB. In common with other policy areas in Wales the social linkages between farmers, their representatives and policymakers appears much closer than that in England (Entwistle 2006). Officials in the WAG claimed:

[W]e've got a much better working relationship with our industry than England do ... it's this closer knit thing ... they come in, we listen to them, we go out to farms, they will come and talk to us as groups or individuals, I think that is closer.... So, we've got that closer working relationship.... I've been followed in to the toilets at the Assembly by members of the union haranguing me about something ... so there's that level of relationship, so I think we've got – we've got a closer knit relationship ... if something's happening out there, they will tell us. (WAG official)

In some ways these close social connections and the cultural significance of farming for Wales was seen as advantage by WAG officials: ‘That gives us a real advantage in terms of being able to tailor what we do to the needs of Wales’. And it was the strength of these socio-cultural ties that underpinned a challenge to the dominance of the single epidemiological space sought within the partnership discourse advocated by DEFRA.

Firstly, the ability to establish the same measures to promote biosecurity across England and Wales was compromised. One example of this was the attempt to reform compensation payments to farmers whose cattle had been slaughtered due to bTB. A report by the National Audit Office Wales (2003) suggested that compensation payments had been excessive and encouraged a culture of compensation rather than one of biosecurity and responsible farming. Responding to the report, DEFRA slashed their compensation payments, basing them on average market values. The WAG attempted to follow suit but the system of legislation in Wales redquired the measure to be voted on in the National Assembly of Wales. The vote failed as politicians from rural constituencies sided with farmers in viewing the new system as unfair. This left two different systems of incentivising biosecurity across England and Wales. Ironically then, the uniform system of biosecurity that prevailed across the UK epidemiological space was first broken in England. Through a process of policy learning, biosecurity practices suggested first within what traditionally would have been seen as a subordinate spatial scale (Wales) were implemented only at the dominant scale (England).

The emerging Welsh biosecurity scale was also developed in more substantive ways. In seeking to demonstrate to farmers and the public that it was doing something about the problem of bTB, the WAG sought to develop its own distinct biosecurity policies. To do this, it sought out ways of representing bTB as a problem in its territory and drew on a particular discourse of veterinary expertise in order to make the problem of bTB governable within its boundaries. The inability of the WAG to direct research resources for their own policy purposes led to the use of ‘associative science’ as opposed to the ‘randomised science’ used by DEFRA. Associative science refers to attempts to establish correlations between various phenomena. A key example of this was the ‘badger found dead’ survey. The purpose of this survey was to collect data on the location of bTB infection in badgers and correlate it with bTB incidents in cattle (VLA 2007). This type of associative science had been previously used in England, but it had been discredited and replaced by randomised control trials in an attempt to prove causality between badger culling and cases of bTB (Independent Scientific Group 2007). For the scientists running the badger culling trial in England, the associative science pursued by the WAG was meaningless because

measuring bovine tuberculosis infection in dead badgers won't tell you anything about the real distribution of the disease. It will probably reflect the intensity of carcass collection more than anything else, and that varies. (UK government scientist).

The associative science that the WAG employed was scientifically weaker and seemingly of little value. However, this expertise was consistent with the socio-political context in Wales. In seeking solutions to bTB, the WAG had established the Welsh TB Action Group (WTBAG). This brought together actors with close connections to agriculture in Wales. They included several farmers, vets and landowners. The WTBAG were fully behind the found dead survey, arguing that the survey should continue for as long as possible (interview data). The value to the WAG of these actors lay in their legitimising the forms of science that they used, and through their members' social expertise enhancing the cultural capital between farmers and the WAG. The members were therefore valued by WAG officials for their role in being able to cascade information to other farmers, pass on information about new diagnostic tests and dispel any myths and rumours about their effectiveness (interview data). This discourse of partnership therefore sought to render the agricultural spaces of Wales more governable through the development of stronger social ties between the public, the WAG and its expertise. In short, the socio-political context helped to support the forms of expertise used by the WAG and these forms of expertise strengthened the relationships between WAG and society.

As a result, the found dead survey proved crucial in establishing a Welsh biosecurity scale. In collecting this data on the location of bTB-infected badgers and cows, the WAG furnished themselves with the ability to spatially locate the problem of bTB. Connections were made between the genetic make-up (known as spogliotypes) of bTB infections in badgers and cattle. In Foucault's terms, the figures allowed the WAG to visualise the problem spatially – albeit simplistically – and make geographical links between bTB in cattle and badgers. In mapping the results of the survey (see Veterinary Laboratories Agency 2007, p. 5), these representations performed an important role in locating the problem of bTB in particular parts of Wales. In short, the problem of bTB was made governable by linking it to the Welsh spatial scale. The representations demonstrated the links between cattle and badger bTB and legitimised the need for action and for that action to be taken by the WAG. Thus, when the WAG politicians made subsequent bTB policy announcements that differed from DEFRA's policy, the found dead survey proved crucial in justifying the WAG's approach:

Previous studies have already concluded that badgers are a wildlife reservoir of bovine bTB in the UK and that they are involved in the transmission of infection to cattle, and vice versa. The results of the Wales Badger Found Dead survey were consistent with this, because they showed that levels of infection in badgers were highest in Gwent, Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire and other areas of the highest incidence of bTB in cattle (Elin Jones, Minister for Rural Affairs, WAG [National Assembly of Wales [NAW] 2008a, p. 57).

[I]n some parts of Wales bovine TB is endemic and recurring. In such areas, the Wales badger found dead survey in 2006 found that a significantly higher proportion of badgers were also infected with bovine TB. These so-called hot spot areas require a more intensive approach if we are to eradicate or even control the disease.... That is why I announced last week that an intensive action pilot area will be set up in a TB hot spot area that will include action to eliminate all sources of on-farm infection. There will be a targeted cull of badgers alongside a simultaneous removal of infected cattle. (NAW 2008b, p. 61)

By packaging bTB policy within these discourses of expertise, the WAG justified and legitimised a new biosecurity scale. They allowed the WAG to claim responsibility over bTB policy and address it in their own right. BTB policy became territorialised as a Welsh problem that required solutions from Welsh institutions. In doing so, the discourse of expertise allowed the WAG to begin to develop different policy solutions to those in England. Importantly, however, the WAG did not totally reject the institutional partnership approach offered at the UK scale, or the different forms of expertise that DEFRA relied upon. Rather, politicians in the WAG promised ‘co-operating with [DEFRA and SVS] ... on how it undertakes this work in Wales is the key to the success of’ our policy (NAW 2008a, p. 60) and

[W]e will be looking at scientific experience of trials in England, the views of Sir David King, and what was said in the committee report here and in the Westminster DEFRA report in drawing up criteria for [our policy]. (p. 68)

This then reveals an interlocking set of discursive scales of biosecurity: a discourse of institutional partnership to manage the disease at the national scale and sub-national scale, and a discourse of specific expertise to manage the disease at a sub-national level. But these discourses provide no clear scalar hierarchy. Instead, the WAG appears to have created a more flexible approach, choosing to align themselves with different discursive scales when necessary. The relationship between these scales is therefore precarious: the previous logic of disease control is at the same time supported and dispensed with such that the spaces of biosecurity are constantly shrinking and expanding to fit within these discursive scales.

Conclusion

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Institutional voids, rural differentiation and the rules of policy-making
  5. BTB and the institutional void
  6. Rescaling epidemiological space
  7. Reterritorialising epidemiological space
  8. Conclusion
  9. Acknowledgements
  10. References

In situating the analysis of bTB policy within Hajer's concept of the institutional void this article has shown how new spaces of biosecurity have emerged out of an institutional void that fundamentally challenged the logic of biosecurity. In doing so, it shows how new forms of expertise are used to challenge the belief in the single epidemiological unit that had hitherto governed animal health policy. The result of these new spaces of biosecurity are new countrysides whose subjects and objects are re-ordered in new and different ways. The concept of the institutional void therefore alerts us to the types of cultural politics that contribute to the making of biosecurity policy. However, the story of bTB also reveals how concepts of space and expertise are vital to attempts to discursively resolve institutional voids. Thus, in the case of bTB policy, what we see is the emergence of a set of discourses deployed at different scales to achieve a resolution to the problem of bTB. Institutional actors sought to preserve the logic of a single epidemiological space by packaging it within two interlocking discourses: firstly, a discourse of institutional partnership to tie governments together, and secondly, a discourse of local partnership to pass on the responsibility and costs to farmers. However, this scalar fix was challenged in Wales, where a Welsh biosecurity scale was constructed that was reliant on different forms of scientific expertise.

These scaled discourses of biosecurity break and rewrite the traditional spatial logic of biosecurity, suggesting that the practices of biosecurity will be performed differently at different spatial scales. However, these discursive scales neither seem to neatly interlock with each other nor to provide a unified vision of what epidemiological space should look like. In Wales, at least, there are tensions between the local and national biosecurity scales and the expertise they involve. As Hinchliffe (2007, p. 105) points out: ‘biosecurities are rarely clear cut’. Yet, for some actors at least, the combinations outlined above nevertheless provide a scalar fix to the problems of bTB.

The construction of these biosecurity scales also demonstrates the variety of the expertise that becomes implicated in creating and resolving an institutional void. While biosecurity may traditionally have depended on a logic of veterinary science, questions over what counts as veterinary science are central to creating the bTB institutional void. In Wales new forms of expertise appear to be crucial to the cultural politics of biosecurity policy. By challenging the rules of biosecurity policy, institutions such as the WAG therefore appear to mediate its forms of expertise. In doing so, government institutions are able to create new scales of biosecurity, but this mediation also reflects the wider socio-political context in which governments find themselves. Equally, in the case of the WAG, their institutional mediation of expertise helps to strengthen the relationships they have with their stakeholders.

By alerting us to the importance of scale, expertise and discourse, the concept of the institutional void helps to reveal the processes of rural differentiation. As stated at the beginning of this article, biosecurity policies have the potential to fundamentally re-order the arrangement of subjects and objects across rural space. Where biosecurity policies exist at different spatial scales, the countryside will become differentiated along social and natural lines. In constructing new scales for biosecurity policy and challenging the primacy of the logic of epidemiological space, increasing social and natural differentiations of the countryside appear inevitable.

Policy announcements made in March 2009 serve to confirm this. Within a week of DEFRA announcing its intention to begin vaccinating badgers to prevent the spread of bTB to cattle (DEFRA 2009) the WAG announced its intention to begin a cull of badgers in west Wales (NAW 2009). These differences not only reveal the extent to which the logic of epidemiological space has been dismantled and the different forms of expertise implicated within these scales, but also the roles we can expect different forms of nature to play in the countryside. The impact of these different policy approaches may be witnessed in the emergence of different coping strategies as farmers are required to become accustomed to living with disease (Convery et al. 2008) and need to develop new farm and countryside management practices (Enticott 2008b). Equally, these aspects of differentiation also reveal the different sets of social actors that we can expect to be involved in constructing the countryside and the forms of expertise they rely upon.

While the account presented in this article suggests there are diverging approaches to biosecurity policy, it should be clear that the countrysides they create are constantly in the making. Relations between social, political and natural networks that have become solidified remain changeable: they may be disrupted by new processes of scaling or by the emergence of new social and natural trends (Hinchliffe 2007). In other words, responding to institutional voids may be a constant process involving the ongoing maintenance of biosecurity solutions. In the case of bTB this raises interesting questions about the future state of biosecurity policies, its logic of appropriateness and how both may diverge and potentially remerge. Already, this article has shown how forms of biosecurity have crossed policy scales from Wales to England. Continuing to track the way in which biosecurity policies transcend and cross policy scales and reshape the countryside is a crucial task. Thus, while the spatial logic of epidemiology may have represented a fundamental rule of managing animal health, its rescaling may ultimately result in some unexpected consequences, some of which may be beneficial to the resolution of bTB.

Acknowledgements

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Institutional voids, rural differentiation and the rules of policy-making
  5. BTB and the institutional void
  6. Rescaling epidemiological space
  7. Reterritorialising epidemiological space
  8. Conclusion
  9. Acknowledgements
  10. References

This research was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (RES-000-22-1738). We would like to thank two anonymous referees and Peter Feindt for comments on a previous version of this article.

Note
  • *

    Corresponding author.

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  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Institutional voids, rural differentiation and the rules of policy-making
  5. BTB and the institutional void
  6. Rescaling epidemiological space
  7. Reterritorialising epidemiological space
  8. Conclusion
  9. Acknowledgements
  10. References
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