Participation, Identity and Culture: an exploration of changing subjectivities through the life trajectories and social and work practices of selected farm women
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This thesis explores the lives and experiences of farm women through identifying and elaborating their changing subjectivities as 'farm wives': a career entered through marriage rather than by vocational preference. It does this through using auto/ethnographic and ethnographic approaches in a study that engaged nine informants principally, but many more through its conduct. Importantly, the thesis gives voice and legitimacy to the place and dreams of women on farms and it has exposed silences that have been 'a shelter for power'. This exposé has been a revelation to those farming women and men who have lived secluded, private lives furiously protecting a myth of the farm 'wife' as fulfilled and happy while living life vicariously, largely through her husband's achievements. Issues of power, gender, isolation and entrapment are revealed through advancing issues of subjective change within a zealous and often unforgiving culture where the myth and propaganda do not match the realities of these women's lives. Maintaining self and maintaining culture far from being manifested as times of stability, require some volatility as they both command transformative and, sometimes, contradictory change to sustain the woman's humanness while ensuring the sustainability of the New Zealand icon – the family farm. Central to the resolution of how farming women sustain and transform their 'selves', are their capacities for intentionality, agency and empowerment. An ability to negotiate or renegotiate a life for one's 'self' is entangled in the complex web of relations between farm, work, family and culture. While influenced by personal intent and agency, this sense of self is informed by one's personal history. Intentionality, then, is a critical concept to consider in attempting to isolate motivational drives; in seeking resolution for such dilemmas. Intention comprises individual agency exercised as personal choice, as opposed to social agency constrained in the form of pressure to conform and meet cultural expectations. However, many of these women have difficulty isolating personal intention due to social and cultural intent dominating their thinking and actions to a point where they sub-consciously take ownership of those objectives. It seems from the participating women, though, that a drive for self-knowledge is compelling. Advanced here is an elaboration of how these 'farm wives' negotiated, reconstructed and reshaped their sense of self, and, at times, also strongly resisted and dis-identified with the social world in which they found themselves unwittingly, and at times unwillingly embedded. Calls are made for challenging and changing cultural expectations while prioritising women's needs. Key contributions concern the salience of : (1) the central role of 'becoming' and 'belonging' as a function of managing geographical, psychosocial, financial, emotional, intellectual and genderised isolations, along with negotiating a culture of masculinisation; (2) maintenance of self existing as a function of a sense of belonging, without which maintenance is elusive and issues of entrapment often manifest as matriarchal power and control between competing generations of women; (3) maintenance and transformation of one's 'self' critically requiring strength of personal agency; and (4) the negotiations of women who continue to defy the norms, reasserting resistance while negotiating 'self' and in doing so transform both their 'self' and their culture. Needs for further enquiry are raised regarding: the cultural relationships between patriarchy and matriarchy and ensuing entrapments; the cultural lag of farming culture in regard to feminist change; and the sustainability of individuals struggling to 'belong' to a culture not of their choosing. Saliently, this research has resonated with New Zealand farming women of all ages and also with young farming men who are struggling with the resistance of young women to marry onto farms. The response, while challenging, indicates strong relevance and critical need.
Thesis (PhD Doctorate)
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
School of Education and Professional Studies
Item Access Status
social inclusiveness or exclusiveness