Visiting scholar Claire Baker – how global transformations affected a small rural community in Australia

Claire Paradise 2

Claire Baker visiting the social care farm ‘t Paradijs:

By Claire Baker, PhD-student from the University of New England in Australia.

Working title of my PhD-project: ‘Experiencing change in a globalising agricultural economy: An Australian ethnographic case study 1945-2015′.

I have been very fortunate to have spent some time with the dynamic Rural Sociology Group at Wageningen University as a Visiting Scholar over the last couple of weeks. This has been an intensive period of discussion and reading during which I have further refined the theoretical and methodological framework for my research project.

The group’s strong focus on the relational aspects of place formation and the intersection of political-economic, socio-cultural and ecological processes in place-shaping has been instructive. Approaching ideas of place-formation in this way, whilst complementary to the approach I have been taking, has clarified the multi-layered processes of change that I hope to uncover in my research. My project centres upon a small rural community in regional Australia that has declined significantly over the last thirty years and it is through in-depth interviews and archival material that I hope to uncover the actual processes of change in the area. I am interested to find out how the broader processes of political-economic and socio-cultural change were felt at the local level through processes of decision-making and practice change. Why did some people leave? Why did some stay? What made this community so vulnerable and what impact have the changes had on these people’s lives? It is at a local level that globalization processes are felt and enacted and the example of Australian agriculture is especially clear in this regard.

Baker Sign Goolhi

As is shown in the picture aside, I have a family connection to the area – you’ll see that the sign says ‘Bakers Lane’ and was named after my grandfather. This means that I have a deep interest in the area and a first-hand experience of some of the changes as I spent my childhood in the area. Importantly, it also means that I am able to contact a number of the ex-residents who are usually a difficult group to locate once they have left. Working with the RSO group has really helped develop the questions I will focus on in my interviews and to make sure they fit with my theoretical approach.

I also had the opportunity (with thanks to Joost Jongerden) to be part of some intensive social theory teaching sessions while I have been here. It was so interesting to see the different approaches taken to teaching here and to reflect upon my own teaching role and experience. Thanks also to the students who welcomed me to the group!

Thank you so much to the Rural Sociology Group, and in particular Dirk Roep, for welcoming and hosting me here at Wageningen UR. The experience has been invaluable in the development of my project and I have taken so much from this time, I only wish that it could have been longer. Perhaps I will make it back to present my findings when I have completed my PhD! Thank you also needs to go to the Keith & Dorothy Mackay Postgraduate Travelling Scholarship at the University of New England for funding my travel. It was such a pleasure to visit Wageningen UR and to see some of The Netherlands, you have a very beautiful country.

Claire Baker