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Title: Forgotten farm workers : contemporary farm labour and sustainability in the South West of England
Author: Nye, Caroline
ISNI:       0000 0004 7231 9133
Awarding Body: University of Exeter
Current Institution: University of Exeter
Date of Award: 2017
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The mass decline in agricultural labour in Britain since the industrial revolution has, ultimately, led to it becoming a significant ‘blind spot’ in the agricultural research agenda. Data regarding those who actively work at the ‘frontline’ of agriculture, and how they interrelate with other agents in their network to achieve multiple national and global agendas, is minimal. This thesis contributes and develops a comprehensive body of knowledge concerning the composition of labour on farms in the South West of England, as well as identifying and exploring contemporary relationships between farm labour contributors, the community; and the land, through the examination of the lived experience of different contributors to agricultural labour. These changes are considered under the lens of agriculture’s ever-encroaching challenges of productivity, labour skills shortages and sustainable intensification. A mixed-methods approach was adopted, incorporating a postal survey of 1251 farms, as well as 45 semi-structured interviews with farm labour contributors via a case study approach. Quantitative data provides a useful picture of those contributing to labour on farms in the South West of England, and brings attention to associated labour issues experienced by farmers. Qualitative data fleshes out these results with the guidance of Actor Network Theory. The concept of the lifescape is utilised to achieve this most pictorially while principles from the Human Capability Framework are applied to weaknesses in network chains that were revealed during the research process. Results reveal how new worker profiles have arisen from the increasingly flexible labour market, with contractors exposed as playing a progressively more crucial role to the survival of the industry. Due to an impending labour crisis, rapid technological development, and disparities in knowledge between farmers and other labour contributors, relationships of independence and interdependence between the various cohorts were discovered. Multiple actors within the lifescape of the farm labour contributor mean that clear distinctions cannot be made between farm, land, nature and community, with no single element more important than the other in the playing out of behaviours. Similarly, that same array of actors is seen to contribute significantly to the capacities, opportunities and freedoms available to farm labour contributors, and where a match between the two fails, substantial issues can be seen to arise. The research makes a valuable contribution to rural sociology through understanding the lifescape of the farm worker from the ground up. Overall, it addresses the importance of incorporating farm workers and contributors into the agricultural and more specifically, the sustainable intensification research agenda, particularly emphasising the importance of agricultural research and policy-making parameters being inclusive of all individuals who actively contribute to the land, rather than exclusive.
Supervisor: Winter, Michael ; Lobley, Matt Sponsor: John Oldacre Foundation
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Farm labour ; Agricultural contractor ; Flexible labour market ; Human Capability Framework ; Lifescape ; Labour flexibility