Cultural Values of Digging

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 mobilised 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 project examine these multiple (re)emergent forms of digging and to establish evidence for their cultural value. In line with the AHRC Cultural Value project, this 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 examines 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:

  • 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?
  • How are different historical reference points used to articulate and explain these values?
  • How is digging linked to ideas of citizenship and relevant to what it means to be British today?
  • What are the different imagined futures and societal trajectories associated with these values?

We are 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 mobilised across the fives different digging themes and within the two social scales and institutions. To answer our research questions, we 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 research team are:

  • Dr Farida Vis, Information School, University of Sheffield (Principal Investigator)
  • Erinma Ochu, University of Manchester
  • Professor Peter Jackson, Department of Geography, University of Sheffield
  • Dr Andrew Miles, Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change (CRESC), University of Manchester
  • Dr Penny Rivlin, Information School, University of Sheffield