Digging for Resilience

By Penny Rivlin

This week the Cultural Values of Digging team held a meeting to discuss the primary emergent themes arising from work conducted on three of our four case studies.  We have been reviewing academic literature and relevant policy documents that engages with ‘digging’ across different scales and registers.  In addition, we have conducted close textual analyses of a range of different social media platforms that are used by diversely situated actors associated with our case studies.  This evidence, and our preliminary observations were condensed into three richly detailed case study reports, which provided the spur for our discussion at the meeting.

We have identified a broad range of primary themes and sub-themes specific to each case study; however our present objective is oriented towards identification of central themes that cross-cut the different cases. Although our case studies operate at different social scales and mobilize a range of social actors, organizations and historical resources associated with digging, we were interested in the affinities between, and suggestions of shared cultural values that traverse the data generated from social media networks. We will be pursuing some of these thematics in future blogposts; for now, I want to comment on the notion of resilience in relation to digging.

Only one of our case studies – The Big Dig – explicitly harnessed the concept of resilience; its articulation was more nuanced in the others, which I will explore in later posts.  In our analysis of featured gardens on the Big Dig website, and of the social media platforms of a community allotment in Greater Manchester, we noticed that several differently situated volunteers drew on a discourse of resilience to explain their individual motivations for, and collective experiences of digging in an organized community garden project. Diggers’ referred to the ways in which enactments of digging contribute to embodied resilience: ‘getting fitter’, ‘being in the fresh air’, ‘eating good food that you’ve grown’, ‘getting outside’, ‘hanging out at the allotment at the weekend’. These narratives suggest that digging serves as an antidote to our (increasing) consumption of indoor activities and technologies.  But there is also evidence of putative desires for community resilience in conditions of uncertainty and austerity: ‘we’re becoming stronger as a community’; ‘we don’t know what we’re facing, let’s pull together to build a community hub’ (on the site); ‘it’s about working together as a community, helping each other’; ‘we’ve grown free food for our community- brilliant!’. Here, digging serves as an edifice upon which cultural values of sharing, caring and civic participation can be built and consolidated.

The embodied resilience(s) of digging might therefore counteract the sedentary, technologized, potentially alienating aspects of everyday life, bringing forth shared cultural values for communal connections and community bonding.

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