Published in American Journal of Alternative Agriculture, Vol. 13 No. 2 (June 1998) at doi: 10.1017/S0889189300007724


This article seeks to stimulate thought on the philosophy behind agricultural research. Pragmatism is identified as a philosophical basis for studying environmental issues that focus on human behavior. The ways in which this approach is applicable to the study of alternative agriculture are illuminated. “Behavioral pragmatists” differ from “behavioral positivists” in their aim, focus, process, and approach to research. I describe the main goals of the pragmatic behavioral approach: accepting a systems approach to study the interrelationships between humans and the environment; gaining understanding through human experiences; viewing problems as whole complex “problematic situations”; and promoting social activism and appropriate policy formulation. Combining qualitative and quantitative methods is often most effective. Pragmatism allows for holistic analysis that incorporates numerous factors that influence human uses of the environment. A specific example shows how behavioral pragmatism is effective in research on alternative agriculture.