Where are they now? The Gendering of Hope: rural women’s biographies of hope and challenge

Apr 26, 2023 | Fellows, Transformations (Issue 9), Where are they now?

The Gendering of Hope: rural women’s biographies of hope and challenge
Professor Lia Bryant (University of South Australia)

I had the wonderful opportunity of being an IAS Fellow as part of the 2019/20 cohort arriving in October 2019. I was a member of St Mary’s College and was warmly welcomed by Professor Maggie Dawn. My days began sitting in a winged back chair nursing coffee and overlooking the grounds of the College and the small, wooded area frequented by rabbits. The walk up the hill past the old church and cemetery over the bridge and the river to Durham Castle marked each day.

I am a sociologist and an interdisciplinary scholar mostly publishing in social and cultural geography. My research program during the IAS Fellowship focused on preparing for a book on rural women and hope. The book considers hope as gendered or as becoming gendered in time and space and extends theories of hope to the gendered micro politics of everyday life for farming women. I explore how politics of gender and the body affect possible and hopeful becomings for rural women who live through challenges of drought, flood and fire and heteronormative family contexts that can limit opportunities for farm inheritance and access to farm finance. The Fellowship provided me with an opportunity to read deeply in the area and begin writing. I am now completing this book for publication in 2024.

My public presentation focused on men in farming, distress and suicide. I was fortunate to meet with local organisations for farmer wellbeing and spent a day at the Teesside Community Hub. These collaborations enabled us to discuss and compare strategies for farmer suicide prevention across Australia and the UK. Since my visit to Durham, I have completed the 4-year study on farmer suicide prevention from which I gave my public lecture and have a website www.takingstock.community which houses the co-design resources for farmer wellbeing and rural suicide community prevention groups.

At Durham, I connected and collaborated with the sociology department and had a wonderful collaboration with Dr Kim Jamie. I also met Dr Gary Sharples and the international scholars who were also visiting Fellows working on the Clay Project. Over the years I have explored water and human and more-than-human relations around to understand what water is and does in the social world. I was fascinated by the Clay Project and the work of scientists in the IAS program collaborating with Dr Gary Sharples. Kim and Gary had just published an interesting paper focusing on the history of clay and global uses of clay influenced and at times appropriated from the Global North. I was welcomed by Kim and Gary into the Clay Project to think about clay and to explore how clay is worked upon and with by scientists. We set up a pilot project whilst I was in Durham and interviewed the clay scientists who were also visiting, and we have used this data to publish a paper called “Reading Clay: the temporal and transformative potential of clay in contemporary scientific practice”.

Closely working in an interdisciplinary environment where the points of views from Fellows Janet Hoek, the mediation team, Andrea Halpern, El Abdullayev, Martine Miller and Sean McMahon (to name a few of the Fellows), provided a stimulating environment to share insights on social and scientific issues. I enjoyed the camaraderie and our conversations and outings together. The social life of the College and engagements with the students at St Mary’s along with the friendship of the Fellows created a special time that will always stay with me.

Currently, I am completing an Australian Research Council grant on disability and rurality, and am also working on a grant focused on women, wellbeing and farming and another on the mental wellbeing of farm workers and farmers from Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Backgrounds. I continue to be interested in naturecultures, a concept created by Donna Haraway to capture the social, cultural, economic and political influences upon nature. I am working with a team of creative scholars from film and communication design on the rehabilitation of waterways.  I hope to return to Durham soon and would have returned sooner had COVID not been a concern. I look forward to revisiting St Mary’s and the IAS and taking on new collaborations with Dr Jamie and Dr Sharples.

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