Chrystal Jaye, Geoff Noller, Mark Bryan, Fiona Doolan-Noble (2021) “No better or worse off”: Mycoplasma bovis, farmers and bureaucracy. Journal of Rural Studies, Volume 88, Pages 40-49, ISSN 0743-0167,
This paper uses Habermas’ theory of lifeworld and system to dissect the collision that happened on farms during the management of the incursion between farming values of stock welfare and practical and relational forms of knowledge; and policy, regulation, compliance and technical instrumental forms of knowledge.
The 2017 outbreak of Mycoplasma bovis in New Zealand deeply impacted rural communities, particularly cattle farmers. In 2018, the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) implemented an eradication programme that involved herd testing, stock culls, restriction of stock movements, decontamination of affected farms, and compensation to farmers for losses associated with the eradication programme. New Zealand news media reported widely on the emotional trauma experienced by affected farmers and MPI was criticised for poor management of the outbreak. We interviewed nineteen farmers and farming couples affected by M. bovis in Southern New Zealand to gain insight into their experiences of the outbreak. In this paper, we present the findings pertaining to one dominant thematic: that of farmers’ interactions with the bureaucracy associated with the management of the outbreak. The farm appeared to quite literally represent a site of collision between farming values of stock welfare and practical and relational forms of knowledge; and policy, regulation, compliance and technical instrumental forms of knowledge. For these reasons, Habermas’ theory of lifeworld and system presented itself as a particularly salient framework for interpreting our data. Participants experienced the eradication programme as intrusive, impractical, and inhumane; while their situated local knowledge and pragmatism were ignored in favour of adherence to wasteful and inefficient bureaucratic processes that while compliant with policy, made no sense to the farmers. We suggest that biosecurity threats such as M. bovis might be more effectively managed when the bureaucracy is attentive to the rural lifeworld and responsive to the situated knowledge of farmers.