Book Review: Hugh Campbell (2021) Farming Inside Invisible Worlds: Modernist Agriculture and its Consequences

The declining state of the rural lands – and their communities – is a growing concern for policy makers and researchers globally.  The concerns are real, more especially relating to the trends to high energy input intensification and industrialism, and the negative effects to both global and local environments, communities, cultures and economies. 

These trends and their effects are well documented, and continually highlighted as imperatives to be addressed.  Greenhouse gases, continued homogenisation and the loss of biodiversity and soil function, the ‘unsettling’ of once family farms, water quality and its retention, value chains that are seemingly fixed in a downward cycle of price-taking cheap bulk commodity and increasing economic marginality. 

The list goes on.  International reports are written on the needs to shift from ‘the industrial model’ of ‘agri-business’ to agro-ecological and socio-ecological practice; a shift back to the ‘culture’ within agriculture. 

The calls to shift practice stand atop something deeper, and without that appreciation of what lies beneath, those calls are less effective.  The roots remain hidden and unexposed. 

Professor Hugh Campbell has written a long overdue book that has exposed those cultural roots underlying what modern farming has become in New Zealand and globally.  He clearly outlines how those driving ideas, power structures and histories of colonisation, modernity and accelerating industrialism, drive the making of our landscapes and the places within which people can be, or not.   

Campbell points out the casualties, the promise unrealised by being made invisible.  He points out the conceptual boundaries of analytical thought that has shrunk to being the maker of machines, including challenging those boundaries of research structures and methodologies. 

The perspective that Campbell brings to these important questions is made more real and hard hitting by his own family history and deep personal connections to land, colonial settler history and community. 

Landscapes are not objective places.  They pulse with relationships.  Campbell’s personal connections highlight the consequences of moral agency within land- and people-scapes, and the boundaries of care being reduced to some or other ‘object’, or not seen at all; culture, soil, a people, a person, stock, a stream or anything else beyond the fence.  It is this personal perspective that shifts this book from an excellent philosophical synthesis of why we are where we are, to an outstanding book. 

Farming Inside Invisible Worlds will be future classic of land use, one which needed to be written to finally expose what we have made practically and morally invisible, and to open the way to a different future.   It is also a book that needs to be read by land use policy and research for the challenges it dares to make.

Chris Perley

Hugh Campbell (2021) Farming Inside Invisible Worlds: Modernist Agriculture and its Consequences.  Bloomsbury, London UK

Available on-line at

Previously Published in Organic NZ

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