The social organisation of farm innovation: knowledge systems, commodization and research networks in Benin
04 / 2004 - 12 / 2012
The focus of this study is on farm innovation. Specifically, we ask how the commodization of knowledge affects the dynamics of innovation processes, in terms of networks building, social learning and conflict management. While the creation and use of knowledge by farmers, extension agents and researchers are institutionalized and exchanged increasingly through markets, we acknowledge that this may lead to the inclusion or exclusion of certain actors in a knowledge network. Intended and unintended effects deriving from this commodization of knowledge result in new "end users" or "non end users" and include the re-organisation of social relationships and arrangements. Research on models of creation and use of innovation has already been carried out in Benin. However, not much is known about the effects of the commodization of knowledge on the dynamics of innovation processes and the way in which they may include or exclude different actors from the market and how this affects their socio-economic situation and livelihoods. The study aims to highlight these pressing issues by using an actor-network perspective in order to overcome the dichotomy between overly determinist modes of explanation and their propensity to predict and explain innovation with reference to the way society is constituted. This theory, which dovetails with actor perspectives, can best be summarised as a theory that offers a description of the way in which relations between entities change as a result of network building, social learning and conflict management. In order to show issues at different points of conception, adoption and diffusion of farm innovation, we propose to carry out a biography of the crop or a biography of a person's experience with it. These ethnographies will focus on the practices and effects of commodization of knowledge on the dynamics of innovation processes through qualitative research methods, i.e. in-depth interviews and participant observation resulting in case studies. In addition to making scientific contributions, this research strives to foster joint critical reflection with societal stakeholders whereby the information generated and/or the processes uncovered serve as feedback. Thus, the results can be utilised by the small-scale farmers themselves, researchers, extension agents, policy makers, etcetera. Moreover, the research can open up a new field of scientific information, which may be essential for connecting - or keeping connected - actors involved in the social organisation of farm innovation. Policy makers may use this information for research and extension related policies.