Agriculture and Human Values

, Volume 33, Issue 2, pp 275–290 | Cite as

The cultural politics of the agroecological transition

  • David MeekEmail author


Scholarly attention to sustainability transitions is rapidly increasing. This article explores how cultural politics constrain agricultural change. Cultural politics, or conflicting values about appropriate types of agriculture, are an underexplored variable influencing whether or not farmers adopt agroecological methods. The research focuses on the environmental, cognitive, and relational mechanisms that influence cultural politics. It analyzes the intersection of mechanisms and cultural politics in an Amazonian agrarian reform settlement of the Brazilian Landless Workers’ Movement (MST). Insights into the factors confounding the agroecological transition are derived from an analysis of longitudinal spatial data derived from historic aerial photographs and remotely sensed images, and ethnographic data from participant observation and semi-structured interviews. Drawing on a political ecology of education perspective, the cultural politics surrounding the agroecological transition are traced to the confluence of the region’s historical usage for cattle ranching (environmental mechanisms), farmer’s conceptions of space (cognitive mechanisms) and the combination of agricultural extension and government credit (relational mechanisms). The MST’s agroecological education initiatives hold the promise to drive the sustainability transition, but are also constrained by these cultural politics and associated mechanisms.


Political ecology of education Landless Workers’ Movement (MST) Spatial imaginaries Agrarian reform Remote sensing 



Federal Institute of Pará-Rural Campus of Marabá


National Institute for Colonization and Agrarian Reform (Instituto Nacional de Colonização e Reforma Agrária)


Brazil’s Landless Workers’ Movement (O Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra)


Political ecology of education


National Program of Strengthening of Family Farming (Programa Nacional de Fortalecimento da Agricultura Familiar)


Superintendent of Amazonian Development (Superintendência do Desenvolvimento da Amazônia)



This research would not have been possible without financial support from the National Science Foundation (Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant, BCS#1060888), Social Science Research Council (International Dissertation Research Fellowship), and the Fulbright Foundation. The author gratefully acknowledges the feedback of three anonymous reviewers and Dr. Harvey James, as well as Rafter Ferguson who provided integral suggestions early on in the framing of the literature.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of AlabamaTuscaloosaUSA

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