Barriers to the Adoption of Sustainable Agriculture on Rented Land: An Examination of Contesting Social Fields*


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    I would first like to thank Michael M. Bell, Diane Mayerfeld, and Rick Exner for their support in carrying out this research. Thanks also to Belinda Backous, Gary Green, and the anonymous reviewers for your helpful comments, as well as to my colleagues at Colorado State University for your suggestions following a presentation of this paper. Finally, a word of appreciation to Arthur Mol and Wageningen University for the generous fellowship during which time an earlier version of this paper was developed. This research was supported by a grant provided by the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) foundation. Direct correspondence to: Michael S. Carolan; Department of Sociology; B236 Clark; Fort Collins, CO; 80523-1784;


Abstract  While over half of the cropland in the United States is rented, interest in land tenancy within sociological circles has been sporadic at best. In light of the prevalence of rented land in agriculture—particularly in the Midwest—it is vital that further research be conducted to investigate the effect that the rental relationship has upon the various aspects of rural life. This paper takes a step in this direction by examining the social dynamics among landlords, tenants, and agricultural agency professionals to better understand how those dynamics affect the adoption of sustainable agricultural methods on rented land. This paper is theoretically informed by the writings of Pierre Bourdieu, particularly his theory of practice and his concepts of “habitus” and “field.” Toward this end, I argue that multiple (yet overlapping) social fields make up the social body of production agriculture, leading to contestation and field reconstruction. In developing this argument, a strategy for change is presented in accordance with the conceptual postulates of Bourdieu's theory of practice to promote a more widespread utilization of sustainable agricultural practices on rented land.