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Symbolic order and material agency: A cultural ecology of native forest remnants on Waikato dairy farms

Loss of native biological diversity is a world-wide problem of growing international concern. One of the main causes of native biodiversity loss is destruction and degradation of native habitat through land development for agriculture. The Waikato region is an example of the destruction and degradation of native habitat in association with the development and intensification of farming, including dairy farming. This thesis explores cultural reasons for the loss of native forest in the Waikato region, and reasons why fragments of native forest remain. The research involves a participant observation study of 'typical' dairy farm families for 9 months of the dairy year, in-depth interviews of dairy farmers who have protected a significant proportion of their land for conservation of native habitat, a questionnaire of dairy farmers, and an examination of dairy farm magazines and other literature to identify the values and attitudes that motivate dairy farmers in relation to land management and protection of native habitat. The title of the thesis suggests two elements that are important for understanding the loss and persistence of native forest in Waikato's farmed landscapes. Symbolic reason refers to the values, attitudes and perceptions of farmers that derive from socio-political and economic forces which encourage productivist practises that leave little opportunity for native forest to survive. Material agency refers to the local circumstances of particular farms and individual people which enable native forest to persist. The thesis argues that persistence of native forest depends on the idiosyncrasies of material circumstance in the face of relentless pressure to transform the production landscape for economic purposes. The thesis concludes with a suggestion that policies to assist survival of native habitat in farmed landscapes need to include ones that encourage the odds in favour of fortuitous circumstance. In the face of globalised economic pressures, policies for conservation of native biodiversity need to involve a 'portfolio' of measures that apply to individual landowners and the wider rural community by recognising, assisting and rewarding management for non-production values.
Type of thesis
Jay, G. M. M. (2004). Symbolic order and material agency: A cultural ecology of native forest remnants on Waikato dairy farms (Thesis, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)). The University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/2603
The University of Waikato
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