Alternative modes of governance: Organic as civic engagement

E. Melanie DuPuis, Sean Gillon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

71 Scopus citations


A major strategy in the creation of sustainable economies is the establishment of alternative market institutions, such as fair trade and local market systems. However, the dynamics of these alternative markets are poorly understood. What are the rules of behavior by which these markets function? How do these markets maintain their separate identity as "alternative": apart from the conventional ("free") market system? Building on Lyson's notion of civic agriculture, we argue that alternative markets maintain themselves through civic engagement. However, we argue that the civically-engaged practices of alternative markets are poorly understood. We seek, therefore, to begin a conversation about the everyday forms of civic engagement in alternative practice and to do this we introduce a few useful conceptual tools. Building upon ideas in science studies about the collaboration of scientists (Hess, Alternative pathways in science and industry, 2007) we argue that civic markets have their own "market fields" and "modes of governance" (Bulkeley et al., Environment and Planning A 39:2733-2753, 2007), their own fields of social interaction in which rules of behavior become stabilized and determine how the market works. The creation of a social field also requires the demarcation of boundaries, referred to in the science studies literature as "boundary work" (Gieryn, Cultural boundaries of science: Credibility on the line, 1999). We apply the idea of boundary work to understand how alternative market actors maintain boundaries between alternative and conventional markets. Finally, studies of collaboration in science have often centered on the object created through these interactions, an object that is partially material and partially a product of knowledge, what (Rheinberger, Toward a history of epistemic things: Synthesizing proteins in the test tube, 1997) calls an "epistemic object." We use this idea to understand that the creation of alternative objects of exchange, such as organic food, are epistemic objects in that they combine both particular materialities and particular ways of knowing. Using these concepts, we will carry out a close analysis of the mode of governance in the national organic market, looking specifically a recent governance crisis in organic agriculture known as the Harvey lawsuit.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)43-56
Number of pages14
JournalAgriculture and Human Values
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Jan 1 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Alterity
  • Alternative
  • Alternative economies
  • Civic engagement
  • Governance
  • Harvey lawsuit
  • Inulin
  • National Organic Program
  • National Organic Standards
  • Organic agriculture

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agronomy and Crop Science


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