Regime change and storylines : a sociological analysis of manure practices in contemporary Dutch dairy farming

Research output: Thesisinternal PhD, WU


This thesis wants to contribute to a better understanding of the current transition the modern manure regime in the dairy sector in the Netherlands is in. The topic of research is situated at the cross-section of two societal developments: the changing role of agriculture, and changing views on and practices of knowledge production. The object of research is the practices where different actors experiment with finding alternatives to the manure regime, and how these practices are embedded in wider structures and developments.

The thesis departs from a sociological perspective, one in which the central role of epistemological dimensions of niche formation and regime change is recognized. In order to study the knowledge production between scientists and farmers in experiments and niches, the institutional approach is enriched with the concept of storylines. Storylines are developed and narrated by members within a community of practice to give meaning to their social and physical activities. During experimentation and niche formation, the actors involved not only develop and test new socio-technological configurations, but they also try to find a common storyline that gives the new configurations meaning beyond the experiment and within the niche.

The different sets of practices studied unravel the storylines and their travels. The first method to unravel these storylines was to follow the narrators and the ways in which they articulated the storylines. Their experiments and attempts at niche formation are analyzed. This was done through interviews, participant observation and situational analysis. The second method was to examine the artefacts that were successful allies in making the storylines robust. Examples are texts (like articles, papers and presentations), images, technologies and databases.

Chapter 3 describes the emergence, stabilization and opening-up of the modern manure regime in the Netherlands during the last decades. Chapter 4 provides the case study of the Nutrient Management Project of VEL and VANLA as a protected space where the enrolment of actors, experiments and technologies that enforce the story line of good manure took place. Chapter 5 shows how eight individual farmers in the Netherlands changed their nutrient management practices during the last decade. Chapter 6 follows the narrators of the storyline of good manure and how they aimed to build a new niche in the Netherlands where farmers’ practices on good manure based on the systems perspective should be given more institutional room. Chapter 7 presents two case studies within the academia in which actors that develop manure practices came together to explore the question “what is valid knowledge’ in nutrient management and what this would mean for the design of scientific research. In chapter 8, a number of conclusions are sketched out. Firstly, a synthesis is made of the current state of the manure regime in the Netherlands. It argues that the diverse knowledge practices that have been developed in response to the crisis have resulted in a viable niche. Secondly, the specific role of storylines and their contribution to niche formation and regime change are described. Thirdly, the new role of scientists to develop and strengthen a new knowledge infrastructure is brought forward.

Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Wageningen University
  • Wiskerke, Han, Promotor
  • Rip, A., Co-promotor, External person
Award date29 Feb 2008
Place of Publication[S.l.]
Publication statusPublished - 29 Feb 2008


  • dairy farming
  • animal manures
  • farmyard manure
  • soil injectors
  • innovations
  • sustainability
  • netherlands
  • manure policy
  • friese wouden


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