Agriculture and Human Values

, Volume 22, Issue 2, pp 137–148

Learning in context through conflict and alignment: Farmers and scientists in search of sustainable agriculture



This article analyzes learning in context through the prism of a sustainable dairy-farming project. The research was performed within a nutrient management project that involved the participation of farmers and scientists. Differences between heterogeneous forms of farmers’ knowledge and scientific knowledge were discursively constructed during conflict and subsequent alignment over the validity and relevance of knowledge. Both conflict and alignment appeared to be essential for learning in context. Conflict spurred learning when disagreeing groups of actors developed their knowledge in order to strengthen their arguments. Conflict caused self-referentiality when the actors no longer listened to each other. This inhibited self-reflection, thus blocking ongoing learning. Nevertheless, after a period of alignment, scientific models and knowledge of farmers were reevaluated and recontextualized. Through determining how to use scientific models and farmers’ knowledge for further learning, aimed at a shared goal, the participating actors also learned how to learn.


Alignment Conflict Dairy farming Discourse Farmers’ knowledge Learning in context Nutrient management Scientific knowledge Sustainable agriculture The Netherlands 


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Copyright information

© Springer 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Communication ManagementWageningen UniversityKN WageningenThe Netherlands

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