Thursday, 18 June 2015

Doing Research on Gender and Farming

Part of coming an undergraduate degree in the Sociology department involves conducting a 10,000 word dissertation in the final year.

Third year Bethany Robertson who has just started her own sociology blog - Snippets of a Smiling Sociologist - reflects on her research and what she has learnt:

My topic of 'Gender in the Field of Farming' seems quite wacky to most but was a natural choice for me given that I have grown up on a farm, exposed to the social issues and witnessed the increase in women in farming. I have always questioned what it means to be a farmer since the nursery rhyme ‘Old Macdonald Had a Farm’ struck me as stereotypical for seeing women as inferior in farming. My advice for anyone deciding on a topic is that working with a personal interest or thinking outside of module work to research something you are passionate about, will give you the motivation to succeed and jump through the barriers you will inevitably face along the way!

I was supervised by Ellen Annandale, and expored the role of women in farming which has traditionally been understated in academic literature due to the predominance of men numerically and normatively in farming. Therefore, sociological research in the area has focused on farm wives and their role on farm, failing to acknowledge the increasing number of women farming in their own right, challenging the image that farming is unsuitable for women.

I conducted interviews with eight women in farming across Norfolk to determine whether women feel gender is made relevant in their work, in order to assess how far experiences and the way gender is ‘done’ reflect inequality between the sexes. Drawing on thematic analysis, my dissertation suggested that women accentuate their femininity to construct difference and position themselves as viable farmers. Instances of marginalisation were tolerated but such gender performance does little to challenge the gendered culture of farming and may contribute to maintaining an environment which undervalues women. 

I enjoyed my research and was so inspired that I was keen to engage other students and staff  with my work. Consequently I took part in the inaugural student-led lectures a couple of weeks ago as a personal challenge to increase my confidence and to share my passion for gender equality in the context of farming. This proved to be a great opportunity to attempt to curb my fear of public speaking because it felt like I was the expert in the room, as well as allowing me to gain feedback on my work and presenting style in an informal way.

I have learnt a lot about project management in organising my primary research which I can take on board in the future. This is going to be particularly useful as I am staying on within the department to embark on the Masters in Social Research to continue to develop my methodological skills which I can culminate in a project, less constrained than my undergraduate dissertation in terms of doing justice to the practical application of research methods. Perhaps I may like to adapt and broaden the scope of my current project in light of honing and reviewing my approach. Post-Masters I am keen to fulfil my passion for contributing to social understanding via empirical research and analysis in the context of a charity or research organization.

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