Rural women as change agents through access to digital technology

Wirasagoda Arachchillage, Hasanthi Buddhika (2019) Rural women as change agents through access to digital technology. [Thesis (PhD/Research)]

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This research presents the empirical evidence on the impact of digital technology in constructing rural women’s positive identities as agents for change. Specifically, this study explores the multiple identities of rural women embedded within discourses found in literature against the discursive construction of identities by women who actively use digital technology in the contemporary family farming business. It was also intended to reveal how women’s identities are in effect within the rural community in relation to agricultural knowledge sharing, whilst simultaneously assessing their agency and professional development for improved farm performance.

The field work for this study involved five focus group discussions with 42 women farmers over a 14-month period in regional communities of South West Queensland, Australia. Information was analysed using Foucauldian informed analytical methods, which investigated the process of identity construction as an interplay of technologies of power, digital technology and ethics of the self. Foucauldian-based process allowed examination of the dynamics of contemporary family farming, by identifying the relationships among digital technology, discourse, discipline, subject and identity.

Analyses of knowledge, power relations and ethics of the self in family farming suggest that digital technology provides spaces for innovation and change agency for women. The study findings revealed that digital technology served as a catalyst in shaping positive identities associated with characteristics of agents for change, but individual differences were also seen. Participants have the potential to exercise decision making power on how to act and what choices to make within family and the farm where patriarchal power still prevails. At the same time, they maintained expected behaviours, due to positive attitudes encompassed by being a good partner and good mother. This was not to be misconstrued with patriarchal oppression, rather accepted roles in an organisation where family and business could not be easily separated; i.e. blurred boundaries between the family and farm.

The culmination of this work presents an organisational behaviour-based model to reflect rural women’s agency on the decision making process within their farm and the
broader community by analysing the individuals, farm (as a farm organisation), and community influence in this process. This model can be utilised to understand information flow and reaction to change within the farm organisation, and potentially design more effective approaches designed to bring about significant practice change within regional communities and on-farm. The novelty of this model is that it deals with the farming organisation as a function of the family unit and the farming business, whilst considering how the individuals — family or otherwise — affect this, and the community shapes this.

Throughout the analysis, it was apparent that digital technologies were being utilised by women, empowering themselves within their roles, from family, through farming business, to community. Participants demonstrated their skills in active community engagement as well as networking skills in agricultural information sharing. However, a perception of negative effects brought about by digital technology was also apparent, and these were usually manifest as technology increasing the disconnection between land managers and their land; i.e. farming is also a social choice whereby farmers seek to work within their fields, rather than within offices, and technology is seen as driving farmers towards the latter. Therefore, future work is required to allay such concerns and create an awareness of technology as an aide, rather than solution, through socio-psychological intervention in order to prevent potential technology-related disorders such as technology dependence. This must be considered in future digital agricultural projects because, with the continuing innovation and technology changes, it may become harder to control the balance between ‘real farm life’ and ‘online life’. Findings of this research invites researchers to explore both the productive and constraint nature of power relationships prevailing in the contemporary family farming industry giving due recognition to moral practices of family, and with specific consideration of the role of technology in this dynamic.

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Item Type: Thesis (PhD/Research)
Item Status: Live Archive
Additional Information: Doctor of Philosophy
Faculty/School / Institute/Centre: Historic - Faculty of Business, Education, Law and Arts - School of Management and Enterprise (1 Jul 2013 - 17 Jan 2021)
Faculty/School / Institute/Centre: Historic - Faculty of Business, Education, Law and Arts - School of Management and Enterprise (1 Jul 2013 - 17 Jan 2021)
Supervisors: Bennett, John McLean; Werth, Shalene; Rose, Samantha; Cavaye, Jim
Date Deposited: 04 Sep 2020 05:32
Last Modified: 24 Jul 2022 22:05
Uncontrolled Keywords: rural women, family farming, identity construction, change agent, digital technology, Foucauldian discourse analysis
Fields of Research (2008): 05 Environmental Sciences > 0502 Environmental Science and Management > 050203 Environmental Education and Extension
Fields of Research (2020): 41 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES > 4104 Environmental management > 410403 Environmental education and extension
Identification Number or DOI: doi:10.26192/V44K-5920

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