Women back to the land

Social and environmental crises have become a defining feature of the current era. One persistent characteristic of debates on how to address these issues concerns the gender balance in science, technology and policy making. Specifically, the female gender has often been called upon to provide solutions to problems that are blamed on patriarchal systems of control and domination. But how can we know the potential impact of shifting this balance, both for the social and environmental systems in crisis and the lives of individual women?

Traditionally, under patriarchal capitalist relations, women have been marginalised within land-based industries and innovation systems. They currently make up a small, but increasing, minority of the land-based workforce in the UK. Could their increased presence on the land have a significant impact on social relations and the natural environment? What might this reconfigured world look and feel like?

A woman's hands holding soil

Research Approach

Led by Dr Rachael Durrant, this project seeks to examine the increasing presence of women engaging in civil labour on the land and explore how and under what conditions it might contribute towards changing established relations between people and nature. Using a longitudinal research design and extended periods of fieldwork, the study will focus on individual women landworkers in two contrasting British regions – heavily-populated South East England and remote-rural Powys, mid-Wales.

It will look at their interactions with the land, with each other, and with other actors, as well as their engagements with land-based initiatives, as they unfold. The analysis will explore their agency – materially, technically, socially, culturally and politically – to relocate to the countryside, reconstruct their relationships with the land and nature, and reintegrate their lifestyles and livelihoods. It will also explore processes of meaning-making and the extent to which the individual and collective narratives of women landworkers are compatible with external views on the role and relevance of gender in social and environmental crises.

The research will creatively combine the use of more traditional qualitative methods with ethnographic and visual methods, including in-depth interviews, participant observations, working on the land, graphic journaling, collaborative mapping, participatory workshops, literature reviews, desk research online, situational and thematic analysis.

The project aims to contribute a new perspective on the significance of women’s civil labour on the land in 21st century Britain that can inform and enable the transformative agency of individual women, the initiatives in which they are involved, and the broader coalitions and networks that they form. It will also advance scholarly understanding of the relationship between situated, in-depth research on agency and more evaluative approaches to understanding social and environmental change.

Impact and Outreach

Over the five years, the different strands of the research will be brought together in a series of ‘transformation lab sessions’ (t-labs) co-produced with research participants and working towards a manifesto for women landworkers. The aim of the t-labs will be to enhance the relevance and impact of the research and build women’s capacities to engage with and shape the research. This process will also lead to the creation of a series of blog posts, ‘vlogs’, podcasts and a short film highlighting the journeys of individual women and their collective experiences and aspirations.

Further information

This Leverhulme Fellowship will finish in July 2026.