Thesis_Higgins_Vaughan J G_Redacted.pdf (22.02 MB)

Smoothing the process of change? A genealogy of the governance of farm viability in Australia (1967-1997)

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posted on 2022-12-12, 00:04 authored by Vaughan J G Higgins

This thesis focuses on how, since the 1960s, farm viability in Australia has been constituted as a formal political problem by various authorities. It argues, in particular, that the 'problem' of farm viability has come to be based increasingly on the individual managerial capacities of farmers themselves. In the past thirty years, the issue of viability has been characterised by agricultural economists and governments alike as one of 'smoothing the process of change' whereby resources are re-distributed from farmers who are deemed to have little future in the industry, to the more economically 'viable' producers. This approach rests on the assumption that it is possible to define accurately viability - as the basis for eventual state action.

In contrast to this approach, the Foucauldian-inspired literature on governmentality points to the desirability of examining the contingent foundations upon which attempts to define, and govern, viable/unviable farmers are based. The thesis investigates the different ways in which farm viability has historically been governed as a knowable object, and the forms of conduct that this authorises. To do this, I reconstruct genealogically - commencing in the 1990s and working back to 1967 - the specific rationalities, technologies, and forms of expertise that have enabled farm viability to emerge as a governable problem, and to be assembled into a programmatic form. Policy documents, Acts of Parliament, parliamentary debates, agricultural economics literature, National Farmers' Federation publications, secondary data from a recent study on drought, and interviews with Federal and State public servants and farm organisation representatives are used as the basis for reconstructing how farm viability has been governed.

My thesis suggests that since the late 1980s, an 'advanced liberal' regime of governing has underpinned the governing of farm viability, with the adoption of formal business skills constituted as a means of providing farmers with the appropriate capacities to manage their properties. However, the governing of producers in this way has not always been seen as appropriate. The thesis examines how the constitution of viability has shifted since the late 1960s as part of attempts to define and redefine both 'normal' farms, and the capacities of farmers. This study concludes that the governing of farm viability is more complex than simply smoothing the process of change. Such change, and responses to it, are constituted and rendered knowable through a variety of rationalities and technologies of governing that attempt to shape the conduct of both authorities and farmers.


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Central Queensland University

Place of Publication

Rockhampton, Queensland

Open Access

  • Yes

Cultural Warning

This research output may contain the names and images of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people now deceased. We apologize for any distress that may occur.

Era Eligible

  • No


Professor Geoffrey Lawrence ; Associate Professor Daniela Stehlik

Thesis Type

  • Doctoral Thesis

Thesis Format

  • By publication