Engineering and agriculture as metaphors for social change

Much of the language we use to describe and measure social change brings to mind engineering: linear, rational, technocratic. Inputs, outputs, outcomes, impact; logic models, theories of change: the flowchart functionality of powerpoint gets a workout.

But what if social change is best understood in terms of agriculture? Growing cycles, working with the seasons, crop rotation, irrigation, husbandry, seed types, terroir: would a different set of metaphors yield a different understanding of social change, help us see dynamics that aren’t visible in grids and flowcharts?

Two things stand out at first glance: seasons and terroir. Seasons: the idea that change is cyclical, and has a pattern that can be understood but never fully predicted. Terroir: the idea that the same product can have a different expression in different parts of the world, and that that difference can either be homogenized or celebrated.

What else? How prevalent are metaphors based in engineering, and how might we understand the same phenomena using metaphors based in agriculture?


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2 Responses to “Engineering and agriculture as metaphors for social change”

  1. The Blog Briefly Known as "Democratizing Philanthropy?" » Blog Archive » Agriculture as a metaphor for social change (part 2) Says:

    […] a previous post, I wondered if agriculture might be a better metaphor for social change than […]

  2. The Blog Briefly Known as "Democratizing Philanthropy?" » Blog Archive » Agriculture and…healthcare? Says:

    […] I’ve written about agriculture vs. engineering as metaphors for social change, so this analogy is fascinating to me. Here’s Gawande: The history of American agriculture suggests that you can have transformation without a master plan, without knowing all the answers up front. Government has a crucial role to play here–not running the system but guiding it, by looking for the best strategies and practices and finding ways to get them adopted, county by county. Transforming health care everywhere starts with transforming it somewhere. […]

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