Agricultural Scientists and Agricultural Change in Industrial and Industrialising Societies

Agricultural Scientists and Agricultural Change in Industrial and Industrialising Societies  – The Swiss Case in Comparative Context: Experts and advisers have occupied a strategically crucial position in modern and in post-modern knowledge-based societies. Agriculture is no exception in this regard. Ever since the late 19th century agricultural scientists have played a central role as experts, instructors and advisers in agricultural and nutrition-related matters at the local, national and international levels. This research project will focus on these agricultural scientists in Switzerland who, until the late 1960s, were exclusively educated at the Swiss Polytechnic College (ETH) in Zürich.

Recent historical studies of agricultural development in Switzerland have elaborated and relied on the perspective of the ‘socialisation of agriculture’. Working within this same perspective, this research project will analyse the roles which agricultural scientists have played in the setting of national agricultural and food science policy goals and in their pursuit. Our aim will be to document the presence of scientifically trained agricultural experts in state administrative positions, in agricultural educational faculties, in advice-giving settings, in scientific research institutes, in farmers’ organisations and in food development and processing enterprises within the private sector.

The research will begin by profiling agricultural scientists as a social group. To this end a number of specific questions will be posed. What, we will ask, were the social backgrounds of Swiss agricultural scientists? Where and how were they educated? What branches of agricultural science did they choose to specialise in? As a second step, the research focus will involve assessing the direct impact of the specialist knowledge of agricultural scientists on the peasant/farming population. Thirdly, we will consider what influence the knowledge and experience of farmers had on the discourses and practices of agricultural scientists. As a fourth and final step, we will compare the Swiss experience with that of Ireland, England and Wales. Introducing these comparative cases will allow us to answer the question whether Switzerland is or is not to be regarded as a special case.

This project is closely connected to the conference, “State Agricultural Policies: Causes, Implementation and Consequences”, which will take place in June 2008 in Bern and is being organised by the Archives for Rural History under the COST-Action A 35 programme.