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Durham University

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Rhetoric, Agency, and Farmers’ Knowledge in the Management of Upland Environmental Processes in the UK

A research project of the Department of Anthropology, part of the Public Culture in Theory and Practice research group.


With the arrival in 2005 of a new regime in the Common Agricultural Policy, English farmers face a substantially revised system in the governance of their working lives. The Single Payment Scheme (SPS), the Environmental Stewardship Scheme (ESS), and the demand for cross compliance all set new standards for farm management, new methods for the support of agricultural incomes, and a new conception of the role of the farmer in the political economy and environment. Alongside the role of businessman and entrepreneur, farmers are now expected increasingly to take on a ‘stewardship’ role. This change in the CAP has been brought about by a change in policymakers’ vision and rhetoric concerning the countryside, laying more stress on an environmentalist conception (Gray 2000, Braun and Castree 1998). In particular, both cross compliance and the three levels of the ESS require increased monitoring by government agencies of environmental measures taken on farms, and these amount to an extension of the ‘audit culture’ (Strathern 2000) in agriculture. Moreover the detailed requirements of cross compliance and the ESS are based on a generalising and abstracting knowledge of the environment rather than on the detailed local knowledge of farmers themselves.


The aim of this project is to determine how the rhetoric of an environmental agenda for English farming is received and implemented by English farmers, and to trace that implementation through geomorphological mapping of environmental measures on farms. The results will contribute to policy formation on integrated rural development. The specific objectives are as follow:

  1. To analyse the rhetoric of knowledge and agency implicit in policy and other documents affecting farmers under the new schemes;
  2. To make an ethnographic study of farmers’ own knowledge and sense of personhood in relation to both their own farms and to policy rhetoric;
  3. To map the measures undertaken on farms as a result of the new policies, with special reference to soil erosion and silt sedimentation; and
  4. To evaluate the effectiveness of the policy for attaining sustainable land use management


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