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    'Staff publications' is the digital repository of Wageningen University & Research

    'Staff publications' contains references to publications authored by Wageningen University staff from 1976 onward.

    Publications authored by the staff of the Research Institutes are available from 1995 onwards.

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Record number 109818
Title Science cultivating practice : a history of agricultural science in the Netherlands and its colonies 1863-1986
Author(s) Maat, H.
Source Wageningen University. Promotor(en): P. Richards; M.J.J.A.A. Korthals. - S.l. : S.n. - ISBN 9789058083593 - 302
Department(s) Applied Philosophy Group
Technology and Agrarian Development
Publication type Dissertation, internally prepared
Publication year 2001
Keyword(s) landbouwwetenschappen - landbouwkundig onderzoek - geschiedenis - plantenveredeling - tarwe - rijst - landbouwstatistieken - nederland - indonesië - agro-ecologie - nederlands indië - agricultural sciences - agricultural research - history - plant breeding - wheat - rice - agricultural statistics - netherlands - indonesia - agroecology - netherlands east indies
Categories Sciences (General) / Rural History

The central argument of this thesis is that science and practice, as articulated in agricultural science in the Netherlands and its colonies, gradually broke apart. This process is visible in the organisation of agricultural research and education, as well as in the development of three major fields of agricultural science. These fields are (1) genetics and plant breeding applied to wheat in the Netherlands, (2) rice breeding in the Dutch East Indies and Surinam, and (3) agricultural statistics. Public-sector agricultural science in the Netherlands and its colonies institutionalised in various organisational forms and locations, but the major player in the network was the research and training institute in Wageningen. In 1863 a reorganisation of the Dutch education system anticipated a State Agricultural School ( Rijkslandbouwschool ), established in 1876. Initially the school was not part of the higher education system, but in the 1910s it was included in academia as an Agricultural College ( Landbouwhogeschool ). In 1986 the higher education system was again revised and the institute received the name Agricultural University ( Landbouwuniversiteit ). Therefore, the years 1863 and 1986 can be considered respectively as a starting point and culmination of agricultural science, therefore delineating the timeframe of this thesis.

In the first chapter the relation between science and practice is further specified and connected to some theoretical notions, resulting in four points of attention for the analysis: 1) The influence of professional competition between agricultural scientists and other scientists in the shaping of agricultural science. 2) The role of government agencies in definitions of agricultural science, and in realising linkages between science and practice. 3) The effect of social interaction and group formation in organisations on the collective mindset ("institutional thinking"), affecting the direction of the development of agricultural science. 4) The role of social interactions between agricultural scientists and others, as well as the role of materials and non-human organisms in defining the boundaries of agricultural science.

In chapter two the question is asked what the landscape of agricultural science looked like before the Dutch government started to interfere and invest seriously in innovation in the agrarian sector through scientific research and education. The chapter shows that throughout the nineteenth century all sorts of initiatives were taken to establish agricultural science in the Netherlands and its colonies. Only towards the end of that century the Dutch government, scientists and representatives of the agrarian community agreed on a format for agricultural science. In the Netherlands this agreement primarily focused on education. In the colonies agricultural research was the main issue.

In chapter three the focus is on the organisation of agricultural research. In the Netherlands agricultural research started at experiment stations, the first opened in Wageningen in 1876 and later followed by several others in various places. From the early twentieth century other organisational forms of agricultural research emerged, public as well as private. In the colonies the first experimental stations were created by private planter organisations. Research for agriculture, however, was also a major issue for the Botanic Garden, a public sector research centre that became the core the colonial Department of Agriculture, established in 1905. The organisation of agricultural research developed rather differently in the colonies from the Netherlands. Where on Java initial proposals for the organisation distinguished between fundamental research (performed by university graduates) and applied research (performed by Wageningen graduates), both types of research were 'reconciled' in one organisational form, experiment stations ( proefstations ). In the Netherlands developments went in an opposite direction. Where the integration between science and practice was first cherished and defended, the voices arguing for a distinction between different forms of research became louder, resulting in three organisational levels for 'fundamental research' (college laboratories), 'strategic research' (research institutes) and 'practice research' (experiment stations).

In chapter four the education of agricultural scientists in the Netherlands is analysed. Changes in the curriculum, study programmes and course tracks are analysed in relation to the general organisation of the Agricultural School (and later Agricultural College) in Wageningen. Similar to the organisation of agricultural research, debates and proposals contained either an emphasis on disciplinary specialisation and training on research skills, or a focus on practical issues, with the various disciplines linked in an integrated way. Over the years the first perspective became dominant over the second, resulting in a curriculum that gradually dispersed into many programmes and course tracks, especially from the 1960s. Parallel to that development, the power base in the education moved from the board of professors (senate) to the (disciplinary) departments. Despite all the efforts at designing a proper curriculum, students often managed to build a curriculum according to their own insights, regardless of ideas and views of professors and university managers.

In chapter five the emergence of plant genetics and plant breeding (as two branches of agricultural science) in the Netherlands is followed. Wheat is chosen as an example crop to analyse linkages to concrete breeding activities. The main question addressed by the various scientists is what proper plant genetics and breeding looks like, and how it can serve Dutch agriculture. Furthermore, the impact of these debates on the organisation of plant breeding is followed. A major finding is that the main scientific research institute for plant breeding acquired a central position in the Dutch seed sector which was not based on the authority of science, but on the authority of the Ministry of Agriculture. Once that position was established, the institute detached itself from practical issues, although the research activities remained strongly focused on issues in the breeding sector.

In chapter six a similar exercise is done for rice breeding in the colonial context. Contrary to the situation in the Netherlands, scientific research and breeding activities were not performed in interaction with (representatives of) private breeders, seed traders and the like. This is partly because such organisations were lacking, partly because Dutch scientists did not speak the language (literally and figuratively) of (mostly Chinese) seed traders and the Javanese farmers, with their own local methods of seed exchange and improvement of rice. Consequently, the breeder-scientists of the colonial experiment station and the colonial Extension Service paid much attention to introducing and maintaining improved rice varieties at local level. At the same time, colonial officials, agronomists and (agricultural) engineers tried to circumvent the dependency on practice by designing polders for mechanised rice cultivation. In the Dutch East Indies this never went beyond the experimental phase. In Surinam a semi-private company realised large-scale mechanised rice cultivation on reclaimed land for several years, although it never became cost-effective. After the initial period it was realised that the project had to focus on local farming practice in order to have a viable economic effect.

In chapter seven the subject is agricultural statistics, conceived as numerical abstraction that articulates differently in different areas of agricultural science. The first part homes in on the articulation in agricultural economics. Agricultural economics resulted from joint efforts of government and science to count and assess productivity in agriculture. In the colonial setting this process of quantification was used by the government to impose taxes, the so-called land rent. The colonial Extension Service used the same data and methods to construct a picture of the Javanese farmer as a serious (rational) partner for technology transfer and agricultural development, as well as to construct the discipline of tropical agricultural economics. The second part of the chapter analyses the introduction of mathematical statistics as a means to order and organise field experimentation in agriculture. Statistical methods and field experimentation mutually influenced each other. A particular feature of this interaction in the Dutch context is that extension officers were reluctant to apply the methodology because they feared to lose the confidence of the farmer when test results were only visible through mathematical formula. The final part analyses numerical abstraction in linear (instead of stochastic) mathematical modelling of plant production. What the story makes clear is that the initial question - is it possible to apply physical models to processes in living nature - gradually was replaced by the question whether agricultural practice has to be adjusted to the reality of the models or the other way round. Consequently, 'modelled practice' was positioned between science and 'real practice'.

Chapter eight contains the conclusions of the thesis and a postscript, containing some prospects on current developments. The main conclusion of the thesis is that in the development of agricultural science the distance between science and practice gradually increased. The organisation of research developed into various layers, hierarchically related. A major effect of the hierarchical differentiation was a broadening of science and practice and blurring of the relation between the two. The number of disciplines included in agricultural science increased, resulting in a wider coverage of issues and themes in practice, moving far beyond the agrarian sector. At the same time issues and problems related to agriculture and food production grew as well, and transformed agrarian issues into social issues. Developments in recent years, described in the postscript, show that attempts to shorten the distance between science and practice by integrating the various institutes of agricultural science result in a series of new questions or tensions for agricultural science to address.

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