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In Better Fettle:
Improvement, Work and Rhetoric in the Transition to Environmental Farming in the North York Moors

EMERY, STEVEN,BLAKE (2010) In Better Fettle:
Improvement, Work and Rhetoric in the Transition to Environmental Farming in the North York Moors.
Doctoral thesis, Durham University.



Through ethnographic research amongst farmers in the North York Moors, and through broader historical and political analysis, I examine the importance and role of values in hard work and beneficent change in negotiated interactions between policy-makers, farmers and conservationists. Within the context of a shift in agricultural support away from production to environmental protection, and within the context of a local conservation initiative to protect a population of freshwater pearl mussels in the River Esk, I show the importance of these values for the construction of farmers' personhoods and their symbolic relations and means of expression through the landscape. I show how those values are persistent and pervasive, yet at the same time mutable and open to interpretation. In particular, I examine alternative conceptions of beneficent change through recourse to the words fettle and improvement. Fettling places value in long-term, steady and incremental change, whereas improvement places value in changes more closely associated with productivist ideals such as expansion and profit. I suggest that it is the mutability of farming values that gives rise to their persistence as they come to be used and reinterpreted according to the changing contexts of their application and the differing interests of a range of groups and individuals. By showing that farmers are able to uphold and express their values differently I argue that it is not so straightforward to predict farmers' responses to changing political exigencies or local conservation initiatives on the basis of homogenous values or the categorisation of farmers into defined "types". Through a rhetoric-culture approach I argue that changes in farming values through time do not merely reflect changing political interests and farmers' subsequent accommodation of them. Rather, it reflects the continued negotiation of those values between farmers and others in the play of agents and patients in the construction of personhood and the formulation of arguments. I argue that the persistence of fettling interpretations of a value in beneficent change reflects the agentive actions of farmers as it remains a useful argumentative strategy with which they can make indictments against new policy impositions and, moreover, it remains functional in guiding their practices in ways suitable to the environment in which they farm.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:Fettle, Improvement, Hard Work, Rhetoric, Rhetoric-Culture, Farmers, Values, Pearl Mussel, Agri-environment, North York Moors, Conservation
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Social Sciences and Health > Anthropology, Department of
Thesis Date:2010
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:03 Aug 2010 15:24

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