Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Future Sociology – PhD at York (1)

Bethany Robertson on Women in Farming


As a farmer's daughter I've always been interested in the position of women in agriculture which led to understanding the gender identities of women farming in Norfolk for my undergraduate dissertation. For my PhD studies, I'm widening the scope beyond Norfolk by making comparison to the Yorkshire region. Hopefully, this will help understand the experiences of women working in a variety of agricultural contexts including arable and livestock based. Growing up on a farm inspired me to pursue this research and offers a means of contributing to rural communities other than by working on my family’s farm.

My PhD research considers the diverse experiences of women in farming beyond the assumption of a ‘farmer’s wife’ by speaking to women who farm and are from a variety of backgrounds, ages and farm types. We tend to think of farmers under the rubric of the 'family farm' but I will learn about the experiences from new entrants or those who have entered the sector as a career change too. I hope to build up a picture of women’s involvement in farming land and livestock which challenges the stereotypical view and considers how the identity of farmers has changed. The rationale for my PhD research is summed up in a piece I wrote for The Conversation recently.

I’m in the second year of my PhD, and working on the most exciting but scary part of the process: fieldwork. In my case, this means literally getting out into the fields as I travel across Norfolk and Yorkshire to interview women who farm. It’s one of my favourite parts of sociological research; going out to listen to people’s stories. It’s especially important in terms of my PhD topic as part of my motivation is to make the social issues affecting rural communities heard in a university culture that seems to prioritise ‘the urban’.

On the days when I want a break from my PhD, I get involved with some of the other activities going on in the department to develop my related interest of human-animal relations. For example, I’ve recently spoken at Thresholds symposium and will be leading a reading group session about pet death soon. I’m also a seminar tutor for first year students which is not only a great experience in learning the mechanics of university teaching, but immerses me in areas of sociology which aren’t part of my PhD.