This thesis uses an interdisciplinary methodological approach including art practice, ethnography and autoethnography as a way of examining the relationship between a farming family and their upland sheep farm in mid- Wales. It draws on the ethnographic methods of ‘participant observation’ and ‘fieldwork’ and the translative and transformative potential of artistic practice as means of exploring the working lives and culture of my research participants. My research enquires into the potential of interdisciplinary practice as a useful tool for investigating and giving time/space and voice to the lay discourses of my rural participants.
The research participants are also my immediate family members: there is therefore an autobiographical element to this project. To what extent does an ‘insider’ status allow for a more complex or distinct type of engagement with the lives of my research participants?
The thesis includes three practical experiments and three reflective chapters. It is important to note that each chapter and practical experiment has been guided by the fieldwork, and as a result, the chapters are distinct and different in approach and content from one another. The constant in each experiment is connection to the fieldwork. It might be useful to note that there is some overlap between Chapter 3/Experiment 3 and some of the other experiments and chapters of the thesis.
Chapter 1 and Experiment 1 focus on place and its importance within my research participants lives; drawing on the critical work of Tim Ingold (2000), Doreen Massey (1999, 2005) and Yi Fu Tuan (1974, 1977, 1996) amongst others.
Chapter 2 and Experiment 2 consider contemporary archaeology in relation to the farm; concentrating on the remains of agricultural labour and an acknowledgement that the past and the present intermingle on a daily basis. This chapter draws on the work of Tim Edensor (2005), Henry Lefebvre (2004) and scholars writing from the field of contemporary archaeology.
Chapter 3 looks specifically at the relationship between the research participants and their flock of Welsh Mountain sheep, paying particular attention to the curation of both human and animal bloodlines. This chapter draws on the work of Donna Haraway (2008), M.L Ryder (1964, 1983), Sarah Franklin (2007), and Rhoda Wilkie (2010).
The thesis includes two photographic books. One evidences the fieldwork and contains specifically chosen photographs from my documentation and their corresponding fieldwork notes. When referring in the body of the thesis to the fieldwork photo-book, it will be numbered as Book 1. The second photographic book contains documentation of the artistic practice including photographic images and 3 DVD’s. When referring to this book in the body of the thesis, it will be numbered as Book 2.
The thesis seeks to explore the lay discourses of my farming participants; drawing on their expertise and knowledge ‘in the field’; the ‘everydayness’, the ordinary and the mundane are all of importance here; it is through these, I contend, that we are able to understand who we are in relation to our place in the world.