Friday, June 24, 2016

New Interdisciplinary Experiences

As a student of Sociology and Environmental Studies at a small liberal arts college, I have perhaps more experience that most at interdisciplinary learning, and this is part of the reason why I felt so eager to come work on this project.  But the actual mechanics and content of the ways these disciplines can be combined never ceases to surprise me.  This summer I am working with Dr. Nels Paulson and Alexis Econie on the sociology aspect of the project, and we are carrying out a study of Non-Operating Landowners (NOLs), or people that own farmland (in our case 35+ acres), but do not farm it, and in many cases, do not even live on or near it.  

Coming from rural Vermont, farms are a familiar sight to me, but I have learned so much more about how land ownership and lease agreements function since being here - and I hope our survey reveals even more information.  The farms at home are much smaller than the ones here, and so I’m curious to learn more about larger scale farming that produces food for a broader consumption base.  Conservation has a different focus here too, centered around BMPs and more concrete, technical aspects of the land.  Our study seeks to understand how conservation, social capital, community, outside organizations, and other demographic factors shape the nature of lease agreements formed with NOLs. We want to know who, if anyone is requiring or encouraging use of these practices, the parameters of their rental agreement, and their involvement in the community.  I am especially interested to know how age and gender may affect these lease agreements, and to know more about women landowners and farmers in general (I attend a women’s college, so gender is always in the back of my mind).  

Interdisciplinarily, I look forward to learning what the Anthropology team will come up with in their study of policy and oral history surrounding the lakes.  In our work so far learning how to carry out Social Network Analysis, a technical and statistical understanding of how individuals interact in large groups, Sociology sometimes becomes more scientific and technical than I realize.  In that sense, I am excited to have a different side of the social and cultural component of the story from the Anthropologists.  As part of our survey, we will try to understand the kinds of organizations NOLs are a part of, and from there make connections about who is connected to whom.  The geography group may also help us in spatially mapping these connections, which sounds fascinating and would hopefully give me some exposure to map making through GIS.  Social Network Analysis is a completely new part of Sociology to me, and I’m excited to get to explore it more in the coming weeks!
Here's a practice SNA we did about the LAKES group! The solid lines and colors denote project teams, and the dotted lines show roommates. 

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