The Meanings of Farmers’ Experiments (2011, Chapter)

Knowing NatureRamisch, J.J., (2011) Experiments as ‘performances’: Interpreting farmers’ soil fertility management practices in western Kenya. Chapter 15 in Goldman, M., P. Nadasdy, M.D. Turner (eds.) Knowing Nature: Conversations at the Intersection of Political Ecology and Science Studies. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Pp. 280 – 295.

Download the unrevised pdf from ResearchGate here.


A growing body of literature describes the interface between formal agricultural research and the knowledges of local communities.  While this research has advanced the awareness of rural practice it usually does so with utilitarian goals of “integrating” knowledge systems or validating local practice in more cosmopolitan forums.  Yet encounters between development actors are power-laden such that claims of “knowledge”, evidence of “learning”, or indeed the very construction of “local practice” are contestable subjects.  Specific examples from community-based learning and development projects in western Kenya illustrate the performative and negotiated nature of both local and formal knowledge as applied to constructing and interpreting “experiments” relating to soil fertility management.  The diversity of practices and outcomes reveals the problems of generalizing principles about actual soil fertility management strategies without an understanding of their social context.

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