Dissertation Diaries II: Sample Shenanigans

It seems that the rural populations of Western countries like the UK can be a neglected topic of discussion. In the UK, agriculture may be thriving but issues of sociologist interest, such as gender, persist. It must be considered that perhaps the density of the city makes their populations easier to study in practical terms, more visible than farm workers scattered across vast fields.

Although the number of women in farming is increasing, there remains less compared to men. So where did I find female farmers to hear their voice? After all, they were unlikely to be found ploughing at UoY! Finding eight women paid to farm who I could interview was quite a task as there is not an appropriate resource, such as an electoral register, specifying the total population. Access to participants from the population in question was seemingly difficult bearing in mind the structure of the rural community. So, participants were recruited using a method known as ‘snowball sampling’. Like a snowball, which gradually increases in size when more snow is added, a sample is built up from contacts referred to by the last. This involved sourcing initial contacts to my convenience, namely those based in Norfolk, given this is the area I had appropriate acquaintances. I placed an advertisement in the agricultural section of the regional newspaper asking for suitable participants to come forward too. Those who agreed to take part were then asked if they could identify further participants that could be recruited for the study.

The snowball proved a bit icy…A drawback of a sample dependent on a network of people in which some know each other is that they may have conversed about their experience of the interview. Therefore, it was vital to ensure participants left the interview content. The composition of the sample became fairly homogenous in terms of those working on livestock farms. This bias may skew the data set in misrepresenting women involved in other farm types and regional areas or may be sociological in itself, suggesting that women are more likely to take on livestock-associated tasks. The age of the participants, ranging from 20s to 60s, must be taken into account too as they enter the farming world in different eras and vary in education, background and experience of farming.

Successful I was, in interviewing a useful number of people under the time constraints of the project, but at times this feat proved logistically challenging and the generalisability of results should be treated with caution!