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Social Contexts of Environmental Practices: How Sustainable Development Discourses and Trust Mediate the Use of Genomics in the Alberta Beef Industry Open Access


Other title
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Kessler, Anna JL
Supervisor and department
Parkins, John R (Resource Economics and Environmental Sociology)
Examining committee member and department
Goddard, Ellen (Resource Economics and Environmental Sociology)
Huddart Kennedy, Emily (Washing State University, Department of Sociology)
Department of Resource Economics and Environmental Sociology
Rural Sociology
Date accepted
Graduation date
Master of Science
Degree level
In the face of environmental degradation resulting from beef production, genomics may add to the options available to producers seeking to reduce their environmental impacts. This research seeks to understand cow/calf producer experiences with the environment, the environmental impacts of their operation, and genomics by engaging with and building upon existing social theories. I draw upon sustainable development theory and literature on ‘the good farmer’ to call into question how cow/calf producers maintain self-perceptions as stewards of the land despite the environmental degradation attributed to the beef industry. Further, I explore theories of public understanding of science and the role of trust by examining cow/calf producers’ and genomics researchers’ perspectives on the role and impact of genomics in the beef industry. Results suggest that sustainable development narratives shape producers’ experiences on the landscape and allow economic sustainability to be prioritised under the assumption that environmental sustainability will follow suit. Positive local environmental practices and impacts assist cow/calf producers in making sense of their simultaneous desire to care for the environment and participation in an industry that causes environmental harm. Overall, fragmented discourses of sustainability create space for producers to maintain a sense of stewardship while remaining disconnected from system wide environmental harms. With respect to public understandings of science and trust, producers seem to trust genomic science and researchers’ knowledge and share similar views to researchers with respect to the role of genomics in the beef industry. However, producers are concerned with the social impacts the application of genomics may bring forth, particularly impacts to their own agency within the beef production system. In addition to considering multiple social trust scenarios this research re-emphasizes the importance of interpersonal trust. Participants identify interpersonal trust in individuals with whom they are familiar as highly influential in shaping their environmental and technology adoption practices. The findings bring to the fore the importance of locality and familiarity in cow/calf producers’ working relationships with the environment and others in the industry. Practical implications for the beef industry and contributions to the literature are also discussed throughout.
Permission is hereby granted to the University of Alberta Libraries to reproduce single copies of this thesis and to lend or sell such copies for private, scholarly or scientific research purposes only. Where the thesis is converted to, or otherwise made available in digital form, the University of Alberta will advise potential users of the thesis of these terms. The author reserves all other publication and other rights in association with the copyright in the thesis and, except as herein before provided, neither the thesis nor any substantial portion thereof may be printed or otherwise reproduced in any material form whatsoever without the author's prior written permission.
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