Mapping the language of landownership : discourses of property, management and rurality
Hegemonic categorisations have been used to examine rural landownership'. including non-farmer/farmer, production/consumption and productive/postproductive. Evocative in the abstract, a shared dichotomy is unsuitable for examining the complexity of how meaning is given to rural land. To arrive at a more finegrained understanding, transcripts of interviews undertaken with landowners, centred around the Cotswolds in Gloucestershire, were analysed using a methodology of discourse analysis. The data was conceptualised in terms of discourses of property, management and rurality. 'Discourse' is here understood to mean vivid images often evoked in metaphor. This discourse analytic approach was useful in examining the way meanings of rural land vary across the course of an interview. Discourses were found adapted according to circumstance, rather than deployed in their entirely 'traditional' form. Discourse analysis allowed exploration and explanation of the processes involved in constructing meaning. For example the use of the part-whole metonymy allowed landowners to talk about part of their property, including management as stewardship, while referring to landownership as a whole. This type of discourse use was strategic. Landowners variously used discourses of stewardship of the environment, farming as a business and accommodation between the two, in different situations within talk to achieve specific, localised effects. It was found that discourses of townies, country people, 'no difference between townies and country people' and townie farmers, constitute a cultural repertoire from which landowners draw. When deployed in talk they create different effects because they relate in various ways to social representations of the rural idyll and urban dystopia. Understanding how meanings of land are constructed in talk is a critical step towards a more informed debate over the future shape of rural landownership.