The social construction of alternatives to pesticide use: A study of biocontrol in Burgundian viticulture

Robin Villemaine, Claude Compagnone & Camille Falconnet (2021)

Sociologia Ruralis, 61(1), pp. 74-95

Abstract. This article seeks to examine the social construction of ‘biocontrol’ as a credible alternative to conventional pesticide use in viticulture production in Burgundy, France. Basing our analysis on a series of interviews with representatives of the key groups involved in the crop protection sector in France, we describe a dynamic that has emerged with respect to the development and justification of biocontrol products as a crop protection strategy. The key players within this dynamic are the State, the agricultural chemical companies, and the input distributors and crop advisors. The State has introduced positive incentives to encourage companies to develop new biocontrol products and negative incentives to compel agricultural input dealers and crop advisors to promote those products. The agricultural chemical companies are introducing new biocontrol materials based on the notion that these products can eventually replace more dangerous pesticides. The input dealers and crop advisors, finally, are compelled by the State to recommend alternatives to conventional pesticides, but generally believe the new biocontrol products are ineffective and so do little to promote their use. When they do, they typically recommend older products that have been recently reclassified as biocontrol materials.

Extract. “More specifically, our objective is to describe the dynamic at work among three key groups of actors involved in the development and introduction of biocontrol products: 1) the State; 2) agricultural chemical companies; and 3) crop advisors and dealers/distributors of crop protection products. Our interest in this dynamic relates in part to the fact that these three groups of actors exist in a triangular relationship, forming a network of interconnections in which each actor both influences and is influenced by the actions of the two others (White 2008), with those actions being potentially both material and symbolic, direct and indirect. These three groups of actors have different spheres of activity and perceive the use of biocontrol products in different ways. The dynamic thus consists of actions, positionings, arguments, justifications, and critiques, which are reflected in the actors’ language and behaviour (Dodier 2005; Boltanski and Thévenot 2006; Boltanski 2011).” (p. 76)

Link to the article