The Cultural Values of Digging

Lead Research Organisation: University of Sheffield
Department Name: Information School


Activities around digging have become massively popular again in recent years, including in the attention they have received from cultural institutions. Many cultural institutions have in recent years recreated wartime (allotment) gardens to highlight a range of different issues and values. Such exhibitions and events, organized during a time of renewed austerity measures, increased concerns around food and the environment, draw obvious parallels to the contemporary moment, offering possibilities to rethink our own values. This project seeks to better understand the myriad of different ways in which issues around digging have reemerged in recent years, to analyse, understand and measure these by looking at how they have been expressed and mobilized by different people and actors. This can be expressed as actual digging and linked to food production, as more symbolic digging, as performance and event, digging up local histories, or as new forms of gift giving. This proposal is for a Research Development Award to examine these multiple (re)emergent forms of digging and to establish evidence for their cultural value. In line with the Cultural Value project, this proposed project significantly adds to the development of rigorous approaches to the researching, articulation and use of case studies as evidence for evaluating dimensions of cultural value, in our case related to a range of different ways value is attached to digging. This project will examine these different forms of digging by studying their perceived cultural value through five distinct aspects: digging as 'nation-building', digging as 'lifestyle choice', digging for 'heritage', digging to enable 'community building' and digging as 'gift'. It does this by focusing on two different social scales: looking and both individual and community groups and secondly by examining the mainstream media and recent relevant policy initiatives. The project asks the following questions:

1. What are the different cultural values associated with digging and how are they articulated through the five identified thematic strands as well as the different social scales and institutional levels?
2. How are different historical reference points used to articulate and explain these values?
3. How is digging linked to ideas of citizenship and relevant to what it means to be British today?
4. What are the different imagined futures and societal trajectories associated with these values?

The project is specifically interested in the rediscovery, reuse, reworking within a contemporary setting of these three historical motives and movements: the 17th Century Diggers, the wartime Dig for Victory campaign and popular 1970s TV show The Good Life. What aspects are selected, and how are these mobilized across the fives different digging themes and within the two social scales and institutions. To answer our research questions, the project develops four distinct, but interconnected case studies, which show the potential for the use and value of such new sources, and associated methodologies, for the identification and evidencing of personal and group experiences, specifically focusing on the use of social media. Our case studies focus on: the UK print media representations of digging, 2000-2012; The Winstanley Festival remembering the Diggers; the recreation of a wartime garden; the Big Dig, a recent initiative that encourages people to 'give' through digging. The project will develop a working paper and two journal articles. The project will host one highly innovative end of project event ensuring dissemination and impact within and beyond academia. Our impact strategy engages the public sector, commercial and private sector, third sector and wider public.

Planned Impact

This project brings together a group of leading scholars and practitioners in the area of (social) media (Vis), culture and participation (Miles and Ochu), food cultures (Jackson), allotments (all, especially Vis), and citizenship (all) for an innovative, interdisciplinary research project that investigates the cultural values of digging through examining its recent popularity. Knowledge exchange and impact of the research through public engagement is implied throughout and benefits further from Ochu's experience as a public engagement specialist (at Manchester Beacon). In part our impact will come through the organisation of one project event, a so-called 'really useful workshop', which will be held in Sheffield at the end of the project (February 2014). This format was designed by the current project team, as part of a project on allotments and open data and involves the following: in order to ensure a genuine engagement with academics, relevant stakeholders and the general public, who play a pivotal role in expressing the cultural value of digging. The workshop will thus have both an academic/stakeholder and public element. It will be held in a well-known cultural landmark, the Showcase Cinema complex in Sheffield. In delivering the workshop and ensuring wider outreach we will work closely with the cinema and public engagement team at Sheffield.
We will work closely with the public sector to identify workshop participants. Specifically through established working relationships with local councils in Sheffield and Manchester, the Department for Communities and Local Government and Cabinet Office who have all expressed an interest in our work. Vis is a founding member of Open Data Manchester, which has become a key shaper of debates around open data in the UK. Her open data work specifically focuses on the opening up of local council data pertaining to allotment waiting lists and rent charges. Through this work close relationships and networks with local and central government working in this area have been developed. Moreover this work is regularly shared in the form of public and invited talks, for example at the Open Government Data Camp, has appeared on The Guardian Data Blog, as well as delivered through keynotes at international events like the recent Open Knowledge Festival, attended by many relevant stakeholders. Within Manchester the co-operative (commercial private sector) have expressed a keen interest in further work developed by this research team. Such relationships will be developed further through this project and could lead to additional support (in kind through the publicizing of our work). Within the third sector significant impact has been secured through earlier work in the area of food cultures, cultural participation and allotments. Specifically the allotment work has received considerable media attention so far and relevant relationships have been forged with third sector stakeholders: the National Association for Allotments and Leisure Gardens; the Royal Horticultural Society; the Allotment Regeneration Initiative; Grow Sheffield, Feeding Manchester and Landshare. Further links that could be developed include the National Trust (through Professor Carys Swanwick, Landscape Department, Sheffield). Moreover further stakeholders to invite to the workshop include the Manchester Histories Festival, People History Museum, North West Film Archive. This in order to explore what they might offer to our 'imagining new trajectories' question and the potential for public programming in this area.
The end of project workshop, which will also be live blogged will further ensure that the project is disseminated and shared with the wider public and will play a big part in our impact strategy. Moreover the project will make use of social media to further share our work. Beyond our academic beneficiaries, our impact strategy thus engages the public sector, commercial and private sector, third sector and wider public.


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Description The project explored the ways in which cultural values circulating around 'digging' - as an orchestrating node for the mobilization of diverse agendas - traverse the realms of everyday life, activism and policy. Its overarching aim was to contribute insight and record experiential knowledges of cultural values attached to, and produced within, activities associated with digging. It evidences the shaping and consolidation of cultural values through attention to embodied enactments of digging as everyday life or lifestyle practices; the role of, and the processes by which, different media technologies and practices are implicated; and mediations and uses of digging/land-use histories and heritage for modes of ethical relating and value-making in the present. Empirically focused on the North West, the project explored four case studies: i) UK print media representations, 2000-2012, and ii) three empirical case studies of digging that have developed between 2011-2013: a wartime garden experiment; a digger 'heritage' event - The Wigan Diggers' Festival; a community allotment garden attached to The Big Dig state-sponsored initiative. There were two parts to this study of cultural values of digging. The first phase involved an academic literature and government policy document scoping; data collection of articles (n = 361) from national newspapers and content analysis of case study 1. The second phase involved narrative interviews with key stakeholders in each of the three empirical case studies (n = 13). This phase concluded with an innovative, event showcasing the key activities around, and contributions to, forms of cultural values of digging, and which included interactive engagement and debate between the project case study respondents. The project established evidence for cultural values of anti-consumerism; sharing; individual, familial and community resilience - to the commercialization of the food system and to new austerity; and collective resistance to state agendas mobilized through cultural values of heritage digging.

Key findings for this project were recorded as part of the end of project report that was submitted to the AHRC in November 2014. (Cultural Values of Digging, Vis, F., Rivlin, P., Jackson, P., Miles, A, and Ochu, E.). The executive summary of this report can also be found on the project website. This report presents the results of a six-month project within the AHRC Cultural Value funding stream.
Exploitation Route There are currently no immediate plans to take these findings forward beyond what has already been indicated, but we will continue to explore opportunities as they arise.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Government, Democracy and Justice

Description On Saturday 8 March 2014, the team hosted a project event at the Friends Meeting House in Manchester. In a formal academic sense, project events provide an opportunity to publicly stage the 'completion' of the project - a moment to reflect upon, and share aspects of a research journey, its highlights and challenges, and ultimately present indications of findings to the academic community and other stakeholders. Whilst our event fundamentally conformed to this blueprint, it also evidenced the reciprocal and relational aspects of 'doing' a social research project. Here, we refer to the investment and willingness of our diversely situated research respondents to share their stories - in this case, of 'digging' - with the academic community. But what became clear throughout the trajectory of the project is that our respondents' perceived our project as a platform upon which they could communicate their digging-related experiences, aims and desires to wider constituencies than that of the 'traditional' researcher/researched relationship. All of our respondents are users and/or consumers of social media to varying extents; they blog, use Instagram, Audioboo, Flickr, Pinterest, and Youtube and comment on their digging stories across a range of time frames, from multiple daily, to weekly posts. They did not see their investments in our project as discrete, singular performances of self, but rather as connected, united selves in a common project, in which the cultural values of digging could be explored and disseminated via a 'digital commons'. As such, we felt that our event should focus on our research participants, providing a space for collective engagement, connection and storytelling.
First Year Of Impact 2014
Sector Communities and Social Services/Policy
Impact Types Societal