experiencing change the liminal zone by liaoqinmei


									                                                                             6th IFSA European Symposium
                                            European Farming and Society in Search of a New Social Contract
                                                                                Learning to Manage Change
                                                                              Vila Real, Portugal, April, 2004

experiencing change
the liminal zone

My name is Colin Newsham.
I‟m from the North West of England.
I am a practitioner; a farmer.
Over the last 10 years I‟ve been through a process of change.
Whilst some of this is unique to my particular situation I think that most of it is
applicable to farming systems wherever they are (we‟ll see whether you agree!)

In this presentation I want to focus on that process of change and what it is like to
experience such change.

I want to do that by using the concept of the liminal zone.

What is a liminal zone I hear some you say?

For many of you travelling to this conference you have passed through a modern day
example of a liminal zone -the airport …….

The airport is a place of :-

   • Possibilities
   • Excitement
   • Anything could happen
   • People are always passing through

At Heathrow, on the way here, there were people of every nationality coming and
going, brought together in that liminal place

   •   An in between place
   •   A place of departure and arrival
   •   Of taking off and landing

You can go anywhere – be anyone.
Thinking of this presentation, flight 292 to Caracas looked very appealing!

                                                                               6th IFSA European Symposium
                                              European Farming and Society in Search of a New Social Contract
                                                                                  Learning to Manage Change
                                                                                Vila Real, Portugal, April, 2004

In myths and fairy tales the liminal zone is again a place where things happen; a place
of unpredictability, of possibilities, of excitement and transformation.

       Betwixt and between
       Both a meeting and a parting of ways
       A threshold
       For example:-
A cave is a typically liminal place, being on the boundary between the sunlit open land
and the enclosed dark subterranean world.

Crossroads are liminal too.

Places of meeting, of magic.

An intersection but not really a place in itself.

For example, Jack, from Jack and the Beanstalk met a stranger at the crossroads and
sold his cow to him in exchange for some magic beans.

As well as a place, liminal might also refer to a time - for example midnight neither
today nor tomorrow; the time when Cinderella was returned to her rags

The actual word liminal comes from the Latin limen which means boundary.

When I came across the idea of liminal it seemed to exactly fit with how I felt and
where I thought I was at that time and where I still think I am.
So I use it to try to explain that position.

This is the river that runs through my land. (Picture of river and stepping stones.)

These stepping stones form the boundary with my neighbour‟s land.
The river is also the parish, the (administrative), boundary. Again a liminal place.

Rivers are often boundaries, for parishes or even countries
Again in myth we have the River Styx – the boundary of the underworld

In my day to day work I‟m on the boundary. At this conference I‟m on the boundary, in
between, not exactly a farmer nor an academic.
I‟m in between.

But there are great advantages to being on the boundary.

                                                                             6th IFSA European Symposium
                                            European Farming and Society in Search of a New Social Contract
                                                                                Learning to Manage Change
                                                                              Vila Real, Portugal, April, 2004

      You can see things differently
      Question things normally taken for granted
      Ask naïve questions

Maybe we need to think about the borders and boundaries that exist in our own lives
and work. What borders could we cross in order to see things differently?

* quote * Edward Said

“Borders and barriers, which enclose us within the safety of familiar territory can also
become prisons and are often defended beyond reason or necessity. Exiles cross
borders, break barriers of thought and experience”

For me, going to my first European conference in 1998, certainly broke my barriers of
thought and experience.

From feeling isolated in my own country, I was suddenly aware of others all over Europe
and beyond doing similar things and encountering similar challenges.

Maybe we all need to be more like exiles, like Said also says, risk the discomfort of

At my own crossroads, like Jack, I chose to take a risk (with no guarantee of a happy

 I left behind the familiar, milking cows and making silage, to go to the unknown (using
my land for management development, making links with the local university,
developing a golf course, writing papers and making presentations!)

I sold all my cows and in return got my very own bag of magic beans!

Whether we are involved in farming, in academia or in business generally we are all
affected by change, by global processes.

Being in any process of change, any liminal zone there is both:-

   •   Excitement – new possibilities, learning, opportunities, new ways of seeing things

But there is also

   •   Fear – of the unknown, the future, the unpredictable

                                                                             6th IFSA European Symposium
                                            European Farming and Society in Search of a New Social Contract
                                                                                Learning to Manage Change
                                                                              Vila Real, Portugal, April, 2004

Having built the golf course, would anyone come?

We don‟t know what is around the corner – a dragon; or a wicked witch.

*quote* Professor Stuart Hill, Australia

“It is common for proposals for change, which usually imply criticism of current
practices, to bring up fear and a diverse range of defensive behaviour”

So change, even when you have chosen it yourself, can be
   • Scary
   • It can be uncomfortable and unsettling
   • You don‟t have the same certainties

Even about who you are or what you call yourself.

As I‟ve changed from full-time mixed dairy, beef and sheep farming to what I do now
(managing the land and the people that use it) I still think of myself as a farmer and
many of the day to day jobs that I do are just the same as before. I still live and work in
the same place. I still have that connection to the land that I‟ve always had.

But for some, rearing animals, growing crops is central to how they see themselves and
so change that moves away from that can be met with resistance and fear.

At a conference I went to last year a representative from the National Farmers Union

*quote* “a farmer is someone who produces food”

Surely we have to think of farming in much more broad terms in order for it to change
and grow; for it to have a place in a global and multifunctional market that we are here
to discuss this week.

So change affects both how we see ourselves but also how others see us.

Just out of interest, I asked some international MBA students, who were at my place,
Forrest Hills, on a workshop, for their definitions of a farmer and here are a few
examples of what they said


                                                                             6th IFSA European Symposium
                                            European Farming and Society in Search of a New Social Contract
                                                                                Learning to Manage Change
                                                                              Vila Real, Portugal, April, 2004

“…. a person that cultivates the earth with love in order to achieve the best quality
outcome… the farmer himself has a lot of knowledge….”
Yvonne (Greece)

 “…. the FARMER is a rather successful entrepreneur
 of a new edge of Russian agriculture...”
Irina (Russia)

 “…. a successful farmer is 'someone who can make money from their land‟ ….”
Tim (England)

All very different from the NFU view, much more broad and accommodating of change.

You might be willing to change and to take risks yourself but then find others around
you are resistant.

One of my neighbours said that we‟d ruined a good farm.

This could be seen as both a fearful response to change but also a narrow view of what
a farm is.

But at the same time an understandable response.

Plans and Action

I want to read out a quote from Professor Stuart Hill.

“ Usually change agents are over-eager to quickly firm up plans and implement actions.
Behind such plans and designs, however, are ideas and visions, and behind these are
loves, passions and feelings, all of these existing within a context of one‟s worldviews,
values and beliefs. Thus, change agents, rather than rushing to discuss plans and
actions, it is more effective to start by opening up a space to talk about these
„background‟ influencing factors…..”

He uses this process to create agreement and collaboration among groups.

In a less direct way I run an exercise with students, with managers and at conferences,
where metaphor is used as a way of thinking about individual learning and change. As
with Stuart Hill‟s example, the idea is to explore change and learning in a different way,
not to rush into activity but to take time to pause and reflect, to see things differently.

                                                                             6th IFSA European Symposium
                                            European Farming and Society in Search of a New Social Contract
                                                                                Learning to Manage Change
                                                                              Vila Real, Portugal, April, 2004

The metaphor I use is the river. This is again the river Conder which runs through my
land. It is transformed from a tiny spring to broad mud flats supporting a variety of life,
all within just 10 kilometres. From fast flowing hill stream to broader, meandering river.

When we were farming and had livestock, the river was a place cows would drink. But it
was also a place that we had to be careful about, to avoid polluting it with effluent run
off. As children it was a place to play in, to fish and build dams.

Today, quad bikes drive through it.

Management trainers create activities over it, usually involving ropes and planks.

In my exercise then, I ask groups to think about the change happening in their
organisation for example and to use the river as a way of thinking about it. Are they
going upstream or downstream; with the flow or against it?
Are they on the bank or in the water?

Given the theme of this conference is „Learning to Manage Change‟ I‟d like you all to
spend a few minutes and just as an exercise for yourself I‟d like you to sit quietly and
imagine you are by the river. It is warm and the leaves are just coming out on the
nearby hedges. You can hear birds singing and there‟s a smell of earth and grass.

I‟ll show a number of river images and want you to think about how the metaphor of
the river might apply to your own experience of change and learning and to the issues
that we are addressing here this week.

(Pictures of the river)

We‟ve reached the departure of the river Conder and its arrival to the sea

I hope you have enjoyed that journey along the river, that liminal place.

You might even like to bear it in mind for the rest of this conference

I hope too that you know something more about my own experience of the liminal zone,
my experience of change.

experiencing change
the liminal zone
thank you


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