Stress in agriculture : the patriarchal way of life of farm families in Powys
Since the 1990s, suicide and stress amongst farming individuals in Britain has gained increasing attention. This is because restructuring of the farm sector has placed greater economic pressure on farm family businesses and led to dramatic socio-cultural change in rural communities. Academic research has been dominated by a medical, reactionary approach to the examination of stress. This ignores the cultural and gender processes which are embedded in a patriarchal family farming ‘way of life’ that may, in reality, underpin medicalised outcomes. This ethnographic research, utilising repeated life history interviews with multiple members of farming families, based in Powys, Mid Wales, provides a crucial first step in a more proactive understanding of stress by tracking the dynamics, construction, enactment and maintenance of relational farming identities. From such a perspective, behavior according to a farming ‘way of life’ is brought sharply into focus as a course and source of components of stress. Drawing upon a range of theoretical positions, a robust conceptualisation of farming stress is developed. In particular insights from feminism inform the non-medical approach adopted by this research. Ideas are drawn on from emerging, feminist international perspectives of relational farming gender identities and by closer integration of theoretical post-modern insights from cultural, rural studies which has persistently neglected farming individuals. This research contributes to theoretical and empirical development within agricultural geography by providing an example of how micro contextualisation of farming/ rural lives can be contextualised within the macro-economic framework of agriculture. Results are drawn from 7 case study farming families, with scale of analysis utilised to reveal from birth the construction, maintenance and enactment of relational farming gender identities. Farm survival is found to be heavily dependent upon socialisation within the ideology of family farming, the enactment of farming identities beyond the farm gate, and the necessity for individuals to adhere to a patriarchal ideology. This patrilineal ‘way of life’ ideology and its gendered components are revealed to demonstrate that adherence to gender roles is becoming increasingly difficult within the current context of agricultural and rural change. The struggle that individuals have to maintain their place and sense of belonging in family farming emerges as a key source of contemporary stress. Further work is needed to ensure that the gendered understanding of farming stress formulated in this research is applied to rural stress policy and practice.