New farmers in lutruwita/Tasmania: struggling to form community

PhD Thesis

Smith, Jennifer C. B.. 2021. New farmers in lutruwita/Tasmania: struggling to form community. PhD Thesis Doctor of Philosophy. University of Southern Queensland.

New farmers in lutruwita/Tasmania: struggling to form community

TypePhD Thesis
AuthorSmith, Jennifer C. B.
SupervisorPocock, Celmara
Palmer, Jane
Collett, David
Institution of OriginUniversity of Southern Queensland
Qualification NameDoctor of Philosophy
Number of Pages205
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

This thesis explores how and why people who have no immediate farming heritage – ‘New Farmers’– have chosen to dramatically change their way of life by moving into rural Tasmania and learning to farm, learning to become farmers and learning to correspond with their new social and ecological surroundings. These people are learning how to dwell, with others. An important finding of this research is that New Farmers moving into rural Tasmania develop a motivation in common: the seeking of community. Ethnographic methods are used to work with New Farmers and to understand and interpret their dwelling in southern Tasmania. In particular, participant observation – the attentive observation and respectful participation in other people’s lives, or, learning together – is employed in private and public settings, in small and large gatherings.

Research participants become unsettled in their former lives, privately and professionally, moving with the survival of their immediate family in mind. Their world views are influenced by ideas around climate change, the apocalypse, urban dystopias, and the potential for social and economic collapse. They imagine Tasmania to be a clean green activist refuge, a place of enislement (a place for self-sufficiency and isolation), yet also a safe European-like home where an agrarian utopia might be progressed with an existing responsive community. New Farmers move and attempt to manifest their imaginaries, discovering that Tasmania is not as they expected – and this is expressed by them as learning to farm through ‘trial and error’. Learning to farm reveals the fact that Tasmania is not Europe – it is the palawa (Tasmanian Aboriginal) lutruwita, and New Farmers’ efforts to dwell here lead them to suffer from exhaustion and loneliness. Yet, many New Farmers have persevered with their new lives in this new place.

Research participants try to form communities in real and virtual spaces, because they need them to survive – mentally and physically. They also struggle, however, with the reality that community is a participatory activity; it is a dynamic shifting multiple concept that requires the constant hard work of creation and maintenance. Community becomes tangible as a group of people communicate, move together, and correspond with one another in real or virtual space. Things develop in common through this correspondence and people start to develop obligations to one another the more they share. The bonds of community can materialise and strengthen during gatherings and events when people come out and acknowledge their membership. Bonds exist as invisible sticky ties stretching between these moments, but they can also be broken.

Membership of a community, of multiple communities, is affective of and important to individual identities, how people feel about themselves, and how people choose to live their lives if they have the privilege of choice. Indeed, community is a macro form of identity and they both form as we interact with one another until correspondence is cut by death.

Dwelling in this thesis concentrates on New Farmers learning to be at home with other humans as they learn to raise plants and animals for food. In this regard, dwelling is a relational activity (a correspondence) within social and ecological surroundings. Merging ideas from philosopher Martin Heidegger and anthropologist Tim Ingold, it argues that communities are not simply collections of objects, static assemblages of people and things – communities are dynamic correspondences which are constantly becoming. It thus concludes that New Farmers like all of us, therefore, must constantly learn how to form communities; and we must constantly learn how to develop things in-common with others to experience being at home in the earth.

Keywordscommunity, dwelling, Tasmania, farmer, learning, correspondence
ANZSRC Field of Research 2020440107. Social and cultural anthropology
Byline AffiliationsCentre for Heritage and Culture
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