Two good interview questions: Mobilizing the ‘good farmer’

Lee-Ann Sutherland*

In this paper, I assess the utility of two targeted qualitative interview questions: descriptions of a ‘good farmer’ and a ‘good day’, for eliciting rich textual data. Studies where farmers have been asked to describe or define a good farmer have been utilized across a growing range of international contexts in order to identify farmers’ cultural scripts, symbolic capital and social norms. The constitution of a ‘good day’ is new to rural studies but has been employed academically to assess perceptions of well-being and job satisfaction. I employ document analysis to analyse the multiple uses of the ‘good farmer’ question in the rural studies literature and introduce a contrasting empirical application the ‘good day’ question in a rural case study in the United Kingdom. Findings demonstrate that both interview questions can generate rich textual descriptions of embodied performances. ‘Good farmer’ definitions may also include a moral judgement, whereas the ‘good day’ question specifically yields descriptions of affect. Farmers are reluctant to identify ‘bad farmers’, but asking about a ‘bad day’ can open up discussion of the vulnerabilities of farming life. Both questions are thus suited to more-than-representational research, gaining utility from their congruence between common parlance and academic conceptualization.

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