Cultivating Discourse: The Social Construction of Agricultural Legislation
In this article we initiate a critical analysis of the discursive geographies from which U.S. agricultural legislation has been constructed. First, we refer to the geography of discourse, which consists of the production, dissemination, and consumption of ideas, concepts, theories, and understandings. Specifically, we trace the emergence and development of an American agrarian discourse, constituted from a wealth of ideas and theories concerning the place of farming in American society and the embodiment of these lines of thought in the agricultural legislation of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. We highlight particular discursive sites and the establishment of expert groups and associated institutions, as well as time and place specific understandings of farmers and farming. The second dimension we draw out focuses on the semantic geography of discourse itself: It is through discourse that objects of debate—such as people and place—are demarcated and placed in relation to each other. In this case, farming and farmers have been understood in relation to a series of binaries (free/fettered, family/corporate, rural/urban, welfare/investment, safety/risk, individual/social, us/them), one side of which becomes valorized as “ideal” or the “norm.” We explore the semantic geography of agricultural legislation by focusing on one discursive site, namely the U.S. Senate, and the debates leading to the passage of the 1996 Freedom to Farm Bill.
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