Using digital storytelling with Irish farmers as an arts-based methodology to understand sustainability

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Bowen, Maeve
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University College Cork
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The thesis investigates the ways in which sustainability is understood by farmers in a part of Southern Ireland. The central innovative methodology adopted for this study is the use of digital storytelling as an arts-based methodology for data collection. The concept of caring and connectedness, particularly to nature, to family and to a continuity between generations are the key themes of the stories, along with farmers viewing themselves as stewards of the countryside and being custodians of the land. The focus on the economic aspects of sustainability (cost factors, both from an expense and a savings perspectives), although included in the stories, does not come across as one of the key themes. The second strand of the research proceeded to undertake a profile of a wider group of farmers in order to infer the results of the story-makers to a wider group. The profile shows a high degree of similarity between the story-makers and the wider group of farmers. A third strand of the study asked farmers what needs to happen for farmers to adopt environmentally friendly practices. The findings show that farmers need a better understanding of good environmental practices and its benefits, more advanced practices need to be costed and the rewards for implementing them explained fully so farmers can adopt them quicker. But farmers do not believe that changes should come at a cost to them as they believe that with the current price of milk and the hours that they work, that they are already not adequately rewarded. The fourth and final part of the study, showed the digital stories to a wider group of farmers and the findings of the research show that farmers are positively disposed towards the digital stories as a method of communication. Importantly, the majority found the stories to have a positive influence on their attitude to making environmental change. The main reasons for their willingness to implement pro-environmental practices related to the cost benefits of implementing change and identifying with the storyteller (being able to relate to the storyteller and to his farming circumstances). The thesis finds that conducting research using arts-based methodologies, can produce extremely valuable insights into how people experience the world and what they place importance upon and that the first person narrative, which is often emotional, can have an impact on viewers, in terms of their engagement to the themes of the stories and their readiness to adopt changing practices. This research bears true of the literature review in which peer to peer communication, bottom-up, visual and emotional material can connect strongly with the audience. It also highlights how communication technologies can be used as facilitating tools for participation and engagement. It is hoped that this research reveals farmers’ deeper understandings of sustainability and that it further adds to the lack of research on the construction of environmental communication in new media and the importance of how environmental communication is framed.
Digital storytelling , Sustainability , Arts-based methodologies , Ireland , Farming , Climate
Bowen, M. 2021. Using digital storytelling with Irish farmers as an arts-based methodology to understand sustainability. PhD Thesis, University College Cork.