Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Arts and Sciences



First Advisor

Dr. Shannon E. Bell

Second Advisor

Dr. Julie Zimmerman


This research considers the potential for social movement organizations (SMOs) to bring about a comprehensive transformation to the current system of industrial agriculture by asking, How can a SMO outside a field of power advance an oppositional model while not being coopted by the dominant system? In Part One, I provide the background context for agricultural research systems in the U.S., describing the rise of the current landscape setting the national agenda and its consequences. To explain power dynamics, I apply a synthesis of Pierre Bourdieu’s and Raymond Williams’ relational theory models for considering the trends of dominant, alternative, and oppositional ideas and practices in a field of power. Next, I present Gibson-Graham’s “politics of possibility” conceptualization along with a concept I term “liberated ecosystem,” to visualize a SMO functioning outside a field of power and investing in a counterhegemonic project. I use the interplay of these concepts to examine the process of pre-emergence, defined as interactional relationships in some measure formulating new experiences that are not compatible to the dominant position. I contend that cultural work is an important factor in the process of pre-emergence. In Part Two, I pick up on the cultural strategies for pre-emerging social change. I start by introducing the case of The Land Institute (TLI) and then proceed to my methods in which I used a historical, multi-modal framework to analyze the cultural work enacted by activists advancing a progressive agenda for sustainability. I describe each strategic action based on its active making of culture, culture as product, and reception of culture. I conclude that the hegemonic nature of industrial agriculture continues to be alive and well, but SMOs have the potential to challenge the ruling social order through deliberate cultural work. Collective action among activists means moving between a liberated ecosystem and a field of power to create new language and new subjectivities. This research shows that comprehensive transformation relies on activists who sustain a comprehensive shared vision, provide values-based education, conduct place-based research, and gather together to nurture a politics of possibility.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)