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Perceptions of Science and Expertise Among Alternative Ranchers in Alberta, Canada: A Qualitative and Actor-Network Analysis

  • Author / Creator
    Dlusskaya, Kira Konstantinovna
  • Raising animals has been an important aspect of human food systems for millennia, but with growing climate concerns, the management of animal agriculture, including beef production, needs to adhere to environmental best practices. Determining what these practices are has been the subject of much academic literature, but scientific consensus on the subject has been elusive, with various alternatives to conventional management being taken up by ranchers. Alberta is Canada’s largest beef producer, with close to 40% of the country’s cattle herd, making it an ideal place to conduct research with ranchers. This study looks at how ranchers in Alberta relate to scientific information and expertise, asking the question How are science, scientists, and scientific institutions perceived among alternative livestock management practitioners in the Canadian prairies? This qualitative study sought out alternative ranchers who choose various management practices, such as Holistic Management and Adaptive Multi-Paddock grazing. Through in-depth interviews with twenty alternative ranchers, as well as participant observation, this study contributes a qualitative component to the literature relating to grazing management and lay-expert interaction in alternative agriculture. Several key themes arose from an inductive analysis of the interview data. Firstly, the ranchers were keenly interested in new findings and practices related to their operations, and they engaged with scientific output with a pragmatic and critical eye. Secondly, ranchers valued situated, specific, and experience-based insights into grazing management much more highly than generalized claims. Thirdly, ranchers chose to pursue alternative grazing management approaches due to an overall disillusionment with conventional practices, frequently due to personal observations and experience. Lastly, ranchers felt motivated to pursue actions that were in alignment with or mimicking Nature and felt strongly about supporting ecosystem health, particularly at the local level. In addition to an inductive component, the study includes an Actor-Network analysis, which aims to incorporate (more than) human associations into an analysis of alternative agricultural systems. This component includes a discussion about the preferred associations formed by ranchers, cattle, pastures, and technologies associated with alternative grazing management. It then follows the history of Holistic Management in Alberta through a selected sub-sample of interviews as well as participant observation data. These two avenues of analysis complement one another and provide additional insight into the dynamics surround alternative grazing management, lay-expert interaction, and innovation adoption.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Fall 2021
  • Type of Item
    Thesis
  • Degree
    Master of Science
  • DOI
    https://doi.org/10.7939/r3-xk4p-vf56
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.