Creating a corporatised society: Australian agricultural restructuring and the emergence of corporate power

O'Keeffe, P 2017, Creating a corporatised society: Australian agricultural restructuring and the emergence of corporate power, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), Global, Urban and Social Sciences, RMIT University.

Document type: Thesis
Collection: Theses

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Title Creating a corporatised society: Australian agricultural restructuring and the emergence of corporate power
Author(s) O'Keeffe, P
Year 2017
Abstract This thesis analyses the corporatisation of Australian society, by examining the discursive construction of knowledge, identities and values and the contribution of these constructions in shaping of Australia’s policy environment. I focus this research on the case study of wheat export market deregulation, which I argue should be viewed as part of the broader restructuring of Australian society and economy.

To understand the liberalisation of the wheat export market and how it was made possible, I have drawn on mainstream policy discourses around policy areas relating to competition, employment, social services, economic and industry policy, to understand the society which policy makers have sought to create. I draw on these broad policy discourses, to analyse how concepts such as competition, efficiency, individualism and ‘the consumer’ have been constructed as policy truths, which have been uncritically used by policy makers to shape how policy problems are identified, conceptualised and addressed. I argue that in doing so, policy discourses construct a reality of markets, firms and consumers, aided through the re-construction of ‘what matters’, and the roles of key actors within society and the relationships between these actors. For example, the State portrays its role as creating an environment which enables the most efficient and productive actors, firms, producers and consumers, to prosper. Liberalised markets are constructed as integral to this. Policy makers portray markets as disinterested and therefore fair. As efficient mechanisms in facilitating the productive use of the nation’s resources. People are reduced to consumers. Citizen power is distilled as consumer power. Firms are portrayed as efficiency-maximisers, who are able to produce what it is that improves consumers’ material living standards. Thus, the liberalisation of markets and firms, is constructed as necessary in enhancing the well-being of rational, individualised consumers. This emphasis on markets, firms and consumers draws attention from people as workers, including farmers. This construction, I argue, externalises the negative social implications caused by economic restructuring in Australia in recent decades, such as increasingly precarious employment, diminished rights for welfare recipients, farmer exits and the decline of rural communities.

These constructions create a reality which makes the shift from the public to the private appear as a logical, common sense solution to the challenges facing society. I use the case study of farming and, specifically, wheat export market deregulation, to show how this shift has been made possible in this context. To make this reality operable, I show how governmental technologies, such as audit, the entrepreneurial individual, cost-benefit analysis, performance objectives, econometric modelling and the consumer were used to act upon society, to make the shift towards liberalisation of the wheat export market happen. The construction of firms as efficiency-maximisers which are relatively powerless in relation to markets and consumers is central to this shift. As a consequence, policy makers have either ignored, or failed to recognise, the capacity of firms to shape their external environments to create favourable operating conditions: a ‘business friendly environment’. Thus, the interests of firms have been portrayed by policy makers as essentially reflecting the interests of the broader society. In the case of wheat export market deregulation, the liberalisation of this market has enabled transnational firms to expand their geographical footprint and extend their global value chains. On the other hand, farmers, whom policy makers claimed were the primary beneficiaries of wheat export market deregulation, contend with consolidated markets instead of choice, declining autonomy rather than individual freedom and, in some cases, feelings of disempowerment and disenfranchisement.
Degree Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Institution RMIT University
School, Department or Centre Global, Urban and Social Sciences
Subjects Public Policy
Rural Sociology
Economic Geography
Keyword(s) Neoliberalism
Discourse analysis
Technologies of performance
Resource Dependency Theory
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Created: Fri, 13 Apr 2018, 10:10:16 EST by Denise Paciocco
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