An evaluation of lay discourses of power : impacts in rural England
This thesis examines the lay discourses of power within six rural parishes of England. In so doing, it explores the understanding and articulations of power possessed within contemporary rural society at the individual scale, and the process(es) through which such understandings are developed, enacted, contested and transformed. This contrasts with current approaches to conceptualising topographies of power in rural England which have tended to focus on structural understandings which locate power within social (economic and political)structures. These approaches emphasise the way in which social structures 'impose' power, and as a result has led to the marginalisation of lay discourses of power and the role of the individual in creating, reinforcing and contesting power. Moreover such conceptualisations have overlooked the 'situatedness' of power and the centrality of social relationships in the 'making' of power and the powerful in specific localities. This thesis primarily utilises qualitative research methods to explore the lived experiences of residents within six parishes in two spatial locations, Cornwall and East Sussex. These 'grounded' experiences are subsequently utilised to identify the perceived powerful individuals, groups and organisations within the local communities. It then assesses the multiplicity of factors which interrelate to inform these perceptions of power amongst rural residents. Furthermore, the thesis considers the ways in which perceptions of power are reconstructed and reconstituted outlining how articulations of power are moulded and informed by 'situated' realities within the study locations. In this way, the empirical chapters of this thesis are orientated around two main foci: first, seeking to outline the perceptions of power generated by respondents from the six study parishes. Secondly, there is a case-study example illustrating the processes through which perceptions of power may be reinforced, contested or altered. A particular emphasis in this example is placed on the process through which individuals engage with other individuals, groups and organisations, and the manner in which these interactions may consequently impact on the perceptions of power held by all. In so doing, this thesis highlights the significance of discursive constructions of power, and the role that differentiated access to spaces, information and social interaction may have on individuals' understanding of, and input into, the topography of power within their community. The thesis concludes by arguing that power and power relations can only be understood by adopting an approach which emphasises that power is an outcome of social relations situated within particular social and spatial locations. As such, it argues that rural studies should re-orientate the analytical focus of conceptualisations of power from the universal to the specific. This said, the thesis also acknowledges the need to recognise that dominant constructions of power and the powerful within rural communities often, and for some groups, remains wedded to social, economic and political structures and processes developed beyond the locality. Therefore, whilst conceptualisations of power must recognise the ways in which power is perceived to be held in social structures by some residents, it is in the interplay between these structures and the social interaction at the community level which determines power trajectories within rural locations. Consequently, this thesis argues that those researching power in rural communities must not throw the 'baby out with the bath water' by simply discarding existing structuralist ideas, rather that these should be integrated into a more encompassing approach in which post-structuralist and post-modern conceptualisations of power are also utilised.