Justification of the paper
Reducing GHG emissions is a fundamental part of the transition to a sustainable society. However, necessary changes in industrial practices are lagging behind as emissions, in the aggregate, continue to rise (World Bank 2012; UNEP, 2012). This paper addresses the discrepancy between needed and actual changes in industrial practices by exploring how the issue of GHG reduction is channelled through policy to industrial producers in a sector of relative importance: Swedish agriculture. We depart from the translation model which sets out to explain how entities, e.g., issues, ideas, practices and problematizations travel within and between contexts (Sahlin & Wedlin, 2008). Our application of the translation model sheds new light on the attempt to understand inertia in climate change-related practice change and should provide researchers and decision makers, particularly within policy, with new information.
The purpose of the paper is to explore how translation of the issue of GHG reduction affects the meaning of industrial practice. Following Zilber (2002; 2006; cf. Hardy and Maguire, 2009) we consider the shared meanings that underpin practice to be of pivotal importance to explain practice change. Thus we suggest that how or if this issue will spur practice change depends on how translation affects such meanings.
The translation model Somewhat simplified, translation assumes that a) entities change as they travel within and between contexts, b) the activities of translating agents are central for this and c) the process never starts nor stops but over time results in taken-for-granted simplifications (Jensen, Sandstrom, & Helin, 2009). Thus it is not mainly the advantages of a particular entity or the power and prestige of some original source (e.g. IPCC) that explain spread but rather the efforts of a multitude of translating agents that: “may act in many different ways, letting the token drop, or modifying it, or deflecting it, or betraying it, or adding to it, or appropriating it” (Latour, 1986: 267).
In applying this model to (agricultural) practice and practice change, we follow Hardy & Maguire (2009; cf. Zilber, 2002; 2006) who stresses the pivotal role of the shared meanings that underpin practice. Seen from this perspective, an emerging issue such as reduction of GHG emissions, could introduce radical change in practices through accompanying problematizations, e.g., claims, arguments, stories, that challenge the legitimacy of the practices prevailing in an industry (Maguire & Hardy, 2009).
Results and conclusions
Our results stem from two case studies exploring how the issue of GHG reduction is channeled through Swedish agro-policy. Our cases show how translation results in new meanings for GHG reduction as well as current agro-policy and practice. However, changes occur mainly at the level of discourse rather than at the level of practice. The argument of “biological complexities”, rendering agricultural emissions special and more difficult to reduce, takes on a status as a taken-for-granted truth that precludes substantial emission cuts and radical practice changes. Framing GHG reduction as concerning efficiency in agricultural practices reconciles possible opposing interests and protects the legitimacy of existing practice. Subsequently, arguments for radical practice changes are weakened.
Implications for Just Transitions
The results shed light on some of the reasoning that explains inertia in transitions to a sustainable production in advanced nations. It is troublesome if advanced nations, e.g., Sweden, by reducing a complex issue to a matter of efficiency of production, refrain from assuming responsibility and making required radical changes. Further, results illustrate the limitations of the eco-modernist principles that currently guide policy making, especially in addressing global issues e.g., climate change. Such principles effectively preclude discussions of equity and fairness in terms of how much emission a sector and its producers have capacity for.
19th Annual International Sustainable Development Research Conference, Stellenbosch , South Africa, 1-3 July, 2013