Andreas Grünewald

Certifying Nature: Organic Standards as a new form of governing?

Standards have become a common tool for linking economic with ecological, social or ethical goals. Whereas there is much talk about the efficiency of standards, critical research concerning the effects of standards in a wider socio-economic is still needed. In my thesis, I do not consider standards as an answer to given social or ecological problems. Rather, I discuss how organic standards have altered power relations – within the organic community, but also within a broader socio-political context. From the perspective of political ecology, organic standards produce some kind of nature in a discursive and substantial way. Thereby, they contribute to the production of new subjects (e.g. the organic farmer), new objects (e.g. organic milk) and new networks (e.g. commodity chains). Standards are therefore essentially linked to question of power and governing/governance on three different analytical levels: On a macro level, they present a new way of regulation which alters the relation between public and private sphere. On a meso level, they are an important tool for the establishment of new value chains which at the same time affect the relations within these chains. On a mirco level, standards not only act on established subjects and objects, but establish these subjects/identities and objects in the first place.

In my research, I use three research strategies to analyse these complex relations between standards and governance/governing: (i) a critical examination of existing literature dealing with organic standards; (ii) an elaboration of a genuine theoretical perspective on organic standards which combines the three analytical levels (macro, meso, micro); (iii) an empirical study of the organic sector in Austria which focuses on both its evolution and actual networks. I have chosen Austria as my case study, because Austria has been and still is at the global  forefront concerning both the percentage of organic farmers (around 20 %) and the commercialization of organic products (three supermarket chains exceed a market share of 80 %).