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Agriculture research from an outsider’s perspective

Emily EAton

Submitted by Emily Eaton
Professor, Geography
Author of Growing Resistance: Canadian Farmers and the Politics of Genetically Modified Wheat

I grew up in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. And despite what you might have been lead to believe based on my recent book, Growing Resistance: Canadian Farmers and the Politics of Genetically Modified Wheat, I have no personal or familial ties to agriculture.

I first became interested in agriculture while studying the sociology of agriculture at the University of Saskatchewan as part of my undergraduate degree in international studies.

It seemed the perfect topic through which to study human-environment relationships, ‘non-rational’ economic actors (farmers), and questions of social justice.

While conducting the research for this book I spent a lot of time with farmers. Having grown up in Saskatchewan gave me little credibility with the farmers that I interviewed. Instead, they perceived me as a naïve outsider, a ‘city girl’ that knew nothing about farming.

Back home in Toronto where I was writing my PhD I was also an outsider in the large urban-focused geography department in downtown Toronto, Canada’s largest city. To my colleagues in Toronto, having grown up in Saskatchewan already meant I was an expert on all things agricultural.

This summer I started a new research project on Saskatchewan’s oil economy. I’m feeling once again like a big outsider. The oil industry is overwhelmingly male and masculinist and not very amenable to this vegetarian academic on the left.

Some colleagues say you should study what you know best; somehow I feel most comfortable studying what I know least. I find it a distinct advantage in the field. Interviewees seem to find outsiders less threatening, they are more willing to offer explanations, and they take time to substantiate their positions. The learning curve is steep, but it’s also very rewarding to be learning so many new things.

Emily Eaton is an assistant professor of geography at the University of Regina specializing in political economy and natural resource economies. She is also active in a variety of social justice struggles. Growing Resistance is her first book.

Emily Eaton will be launching Growing Resistance at 7:00 pm on Tuesday April 9 at Regina’s Artful Dodger (1631 11th Avenue, Regina).

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