Transformation of the Australian beef industry: integrating political economy and sociocultural approaches to agri-food restructuring.

Haydee Mariela Sanchez (2008). Transformation of the Australian beef industry: integrating political economy and sociocultural approaches to agri-food restructuring. PhD Thesis, School of Social Science, The University of Queensland.

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Author Haydee Mariela Sanchez
Thesis Title Transformation of the Australian beef industry: integrating political economy and sociocultural approaches to agri-food restructuring.
School, Centre or Institute School of Social Science
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 2008-10
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Supervisor Prof. Geoffrey Lawrence
Em. Prof. John Western
Adj. Prof. Shaun Coffey.
Total pages 206
Total colour pages 9
Total black and white pages 197
Subjects 300000 Agricultural, Veterinary and Environmental Sciences
Formatted abstract
The thesis aims to understand some relevant changes that have taken place in the Australian beef
industry over the past twenty-five years from a political economy and sociocultural perspective.
Although recent reports analyse the transformation of the Australian beef industry (see, for
example, Productivity Commission, 2005), little understanding into the mechanisms of change and
their social implications has been offered. The sociology of agriculture and related disciplines
have provided insights into the restructuring process of agri-food systems. Nevertheless, the
contribution has been divided between political economy and sociocultural approaches. This study
aims to integrate both approaches into a single analytical framework. In doing so, the research
attempts to answer compelling questions associated with structural aspects as well as social
meaning and identity, all of which influence relationships between production and consumption of
agri-food commodities. The social theory of Manuel Castells offers analytical tools suitable for
investigating the current political economy and sociocultural changes in agri-food systems. This
theory overcomes the common theoretical dichotomy between structure and agency, global and
local, and homogenisation and disaggregating, necessary for a comprehensive understanding of
agri-food systems.
The study comprises a multimethod research approach in which a broad array of qualitative and
quantitative empirical material was collected and analysed. However, qualitative empirical
material prevails in this study. Information gathered from 28 in-depth interviews with key leaders
of the Australian beef industry between 2005 and 2006 is particularly relevant. These interviews
allowed an in-depth understanding of the processes and meanings associated with the industry’s
transformation, and the actors involved. Further, a detailed analysis of the supply relationships of
four major enterprises in the Australian beef industry shows the profound changes that are taking
place and their implications.
The application of Castells’ theory to the analysis of the changes in the Australian beef industry
offers a unique contribution to the sociology of agriculture that is concerned with contemporary
agri-food restructuring. Castells’ concept of network contributes to understanding why supply
relations among key Australian beef stakeholders are changing from a linear supply chain to a
non-linear supply network. Also, Castells’ concept of social identity and meaning led to the
exploration of sociocultural dimensions of the institutional restructuring process in the Australian
beef industry. Finally, Castells’ concept of power allows an explanation of why power in the
Australian beef industry is characterised by networked rather than concentrated relations.The research shows that the transformation of the Australian beef industry is an example of the
new trends in the restructuring of the global agri-food sector. The main findings from this research
are as follows:
First, the growing importance of networked production and supply relations that allow participants
in the Australian beef industry to meet demand for specific products and for markets that require
particular processes and time frames is revealed;
Second, the growing presence of market-driven institutions that prioritise economic efficiency, the
commercialisation of production, and the institutionalisation of trust through third party and
industry self regulation is highlighted;
Third, the internalisation by those in beef networks of an agri-food business ethos, which implies
that economic values and interests prevail over the social values of rural life is identified;
Fourth, the growing realisation that industry participants need to pursue strategic practices in both
material and symbolic forms if they want to remain economically viable is demonstrated.
Keyword Australian beef industry, agri-food restructuring, commodity supply chain, supermarkets,
Additional Notes 69,73,81,146,152,163,164,165,167.

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Created: Mon, 20 Oct 2008, 11:10:40 EST by Mrs Haydee Sanchez on behalf of Scholarly Communication and Digitisation Service