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Governing the Boundaries of Viability: Economic Expertise and the Production of the ‘Low‐Income Farm Problem’ in Australia

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posted on 2023-05-20, 12:08 authored by Vaughan HigginsVaughan Higgins
In the last thirty‐five years, the economic viability of farmers both in Australia and internationally has assumed increasing political prominence with governments seeking to restructure agricultural industries. With reference to Australia, it has been argued increasingly by politicians, economists and farm organizations that some farmers have little prospect of survival, and require government assistance to exit the industry in the claimed interests of improved national productivity. However, viability has not always been governed in this way. In fact, the categorization of farmers on the basis of their capacity to earn an ‘adequate’ income emerged only in the late‐1960s. Through an examination of the emergence, from 1967 to 1971, of ‘low‐income’ farms as a national problem, this paper shows how ‘problems’ of restructuring are constituted discursively as objects of knowledge. Applying a Foucauldian‐inspired genealogy of government, I reconstruct the authorities and forms of knowledge through which a low‐income problem was constituted and assembled in a knowable form. Of particular significance in this paper is how economic expertise assumed prominence as key authorities in constituting previous collectivist forms of assistance as irrational, and in linking the future viability of Australian agriculture to the theories and practices of agricultural economists.


Publication title

Sociologia Ruralis








School of Social Sciences


Blackwell Publ Ltd

Place of publication

108 Cowley Rd, Oxford, England, Oxon, Ox4 1Jf

Rights statement

Copyright 2011 European Society for Rural Sociology. This is the peer reviewed version of the following article, which has been published in final form at This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance with Wiley Terms and Conditions for Use of Self-Archived Versions.

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  • Open

Socio-economic Objectives

Expanding knowledge in human society

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