Identity, space, place and power: an ethnographic study of a community garden
Lewis, Ethan E.
This ethnographic inquiry examined the lived experiences of the Granton Community Gardeners. I explored how their social and nonhuman interactions influence the community garden volunteers by developing two sub-questions through my data analysis: 1) How are the community garden volunteers performing identity work in the garden? 2) How is power manifested and garden roles performed through the volunteers’ interactions in the garden? During five months of fieldwork, I recorded observations and conversations with participants. I analysed the data using a conceptual framework incorporating Blumer's ( 1986) approach to symbolic interactionism (SI), supported by Cooley's ( 1983) 'looking-glass self' and Mead's ( 2015) 'the generalized other'. I combined these theorists with Doreen Massey's (2005) conceptualisation of space and place as relational and always becoming. This original conceptual approach contributes to community gardening literature by examining the impacts on people from the interaction inherent in a gardening project, as considered through the work of Massey and SI. A modified Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis indicated two main themes: “Identity”, and “Power and Organisational Roles”. The data show that the participants are continually constructing and maintaining their identities. These identities are closely tied to the roles they have or are trying to play in the garden. These identities and organisational roles are related to the power, or perceived power individuals have inside and outside the garden. While all the volunteers are reflected in these findings, the garden’s interactions were experienced differently across individuals. This study contributes a novel application of symbolic interactionism and Massey's (2005) concepts of space, place and power-geometries (Massey, 1999) as a conceptual framework to a growing body of literature about community gardens. My study revealed new insights into how volunteers construct or maintain identities and how space and place influence these identities. Garden organisers can use these discoveries to structure their garden spaces and activities to accommodate these volunteers’ diverse expressions of identity and organisational roles.