Telling StoriesFarmers Offer New Insights into Farming Resilience

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We explore elements of resilience on East Anglian farms through analysis of nine farmers’ life stories. Using a largely unprompted narrative approach, narrators had freedom to structure their own personal accounts, and later to review our initial interpretations. Transcriptions were organised in timelines, themes were identified, and causes and effects of major farm turning points distinguished. We find that internal drivers such as intergenerational transition, health and family relationships, from the narrators’ viewpoint, were cited as producing more change than external pressures such as price volatility or production variation. Robust and especially adaptation responses are prevalent in the stories, transformations are neither particularly radical nor innovative, but widespread piecemeal change through time can accumulate to enhance resilience. Four farmers identified more as businesspeople, with blurred boundaries between their farming and other commercial interests. Farming succession, with occasional conflict and new problems arising from extended working lives, prompts most change. Insights can arise as much from what is unsaid in these stories, and self-explanation to outsiders can have cathartic effects. This narrative and analysis approach challenges preconceptions and can reframe theoretical perspectives and suggest approaches for policy reform. The focus was on existing farms with some resilience, further work should explore why former farmers were not resilient. Narrative analysis in other European countries showed important similarities in differing system contexts, but also divergences in the overall character of the life-stories.

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