“We love this land, and we want to take care of this land”: Iowa women farmland owners constructing and contesting narratives

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Carter, Angie
Major Professor
Rebecca Christoffel
David Schweingruber
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This qualitative dissertation studies how Iowa women farmland owners construct their experiences as landowners. I focus on the reflexivity between individual narratives of women farmland owners and cultural narratives of farmland ownership to better understand narrative reflexivity and thereby contribute to “a better understanding of how narratives work and the work narratives do” (Loseke 2007). I identify how cultural narratives influence interactional processes, such as decision-making and conservation implementation, and inform the legitimacy of landownership and land use. How women farmland owners construct meaning about their farmland and use this to navigate decision-making with their co-owners and others has significant impact upon the future of conservation and farmland tenure. Women own or co-own 47 percent of Iowa’s farmland and 52 percent of its leased farmland (Duffy and Johanns 2012), yet we know little about them (Eells and Soulis 2014). I collected data from ten women farmland owner meetings in Iowa and 26 in-depth interviews with women who own Iowa farmland. I used grounded and feminist standpoint theory methodology to identify how women farmland owners construct meaning about their place within existing agricultural narratives and how these narratives influence their decision-making about their farmland. These gendered narratives have both social and ecological costs, posing challenges to the legitimacy of women farmland owners and presenting barriers as they try to actively manage their land and implement conservation.

In the first paper, I analyze how women farmland owners experience social control processes and the role of homosocial spaces in leading to the implementation of change on their farmland. In the second paper, I identify the function and importance of women as placeholders within gendered cultural narratives. In the third paper, I analyze how women farmland owners’ land-as-community framing of water quality as a social problem is supported by generational, ecological, and public health claims. This research has important implications for agricultural and educational outreach, as well as agricultural policy. In addition, this dissertation contributes needed and missing knowledge about an underrepresented group--women farmland owners. Finally, this dissertation contributes to understanding of the reflexivity between social processes and narrative construction. Identifying how social processes influence narrative construction within the symbolic landscape of agriculture described by Iowan women landowners offers points of intervention and transformation, leading to social change in agricultural practice and policy, and, eventually, landscape changes

Thu Jan 01 00:00:00 UTC 2015