Unfolding capacity: strategies of farmers' organizations as change agents

Alejandro Balanzo Guzman

Research output: ThesisPhD Thesis - Research UT, graduation UT

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It is often said rural organizations are an important vehicle to overcome social and historical factors and social and political relations rooting poverty (Ifad, 2011). Little is known, however, about how these organizations actually bring about means for grassroot governance. This research adds to this matter, focusing on how farmers’ organizations cope with weak or ill institutional environments in their attempt to bring about local stability, following the question: what are farmers’ organizations strategies as change agents? The dissertation develops a typology of farmers’ organizations’ strategies as change agents, drawing on: i) the purposes driving farmers’ organizations; ii) farmers’ organizations’ strategies to coproduce institutions impacting local dynamics, and iii) farmers’ organizations’ strategies to create, allocate and scale local skills, capabilities and capacities. To capture this phenomenon the research follows an abductive rationale (Schwartz Shea, 2012). On the theoretical realm, capacity development plays as an interpretive reference. Capacity development is a policy tool (Voß, 2007) of international development policy, referring to autonomy deployment in the pursuit of developmental value. The conceptual approach is built on capacity development’s conceptual and practical understanding of change agency. The approach brings about literature from institutional work , innovation intermediation , the practice turn in sociology , sociology of knowledge and cognitive studies . The analysis defines a set of knowledge stances: knowledge-related patterns at the core of change agency strategies, allowing pointing at farmers’ organizations gestures as actors. On the empirical realm, the research recurs to a multi-sited study case aiming at capturing a fuzzy object (Nadai ; Maeder, 2009). It focuses on 39 Colombian cocoa-producer smallholder organizations located in institutionally deprived regions. Field results give an historical and present account of organizations’ relations with other parties, clustered thematically to describe the scope of organizations’ roles and coping strategies. Results are discussed following a typological approach (Weber, 1949). Organizations’ strategies are ‘isolated’ in order be analysed, clustered in types according to resembling features and contingent generalizations. The analysis is threefold: theoretical, adding detail to the conceptual approach; contextual, demarcating the fields in which farmers’ organizations take part; and analytical, detailing the extent of farmers’ organizations as actors: the ways organizations manoeuvre to stabilize a practice field deploying an interplay of strategies vis-à-vis boundaries, practice and institutions. Those agency gestures expressing the normative stance of the organizations specify its character of change agents. In sum, farmers’ organizations: i) perform inner-wise, ii) collaborate to extend practice fields, iii) bypass bottlenecks and re-scale their reach, iv) broke a knowledge cycle to strengthen local practice fields; and v) take part in the building of the public sphere.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Twente
  • Kuhlmann, Stefan, Supervisor
  • Ordonez Matamoros, Gonzalo, Co-Supervisor
Award date24 Nov 2016
Place of PublicationEnschede
Print ISBNs978-90-365-4186-2
Publication statusPublished - 24 Nov 2016


  • IR-101970
  • METIS-318687


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