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Sustainability Research Unit George Campus

19/07/2016

Thea Buckle recently received the Nelson Mandela University award for the best Master’s student in the social sciences for her dissertation “Media and communication influences on farmer’s views of water conservation in the Garden Route”.

Thea Buckle (centre) with co-supervisor Dr Janina Wozniak (left) and supervisor Prof Christo Fabricius

Thea Buckle recently received the Nelson Mandela University award for the best Master’s student in the social sciences for her dissertation “Media and communication influences on farmer’s views of water conservation in the Garden Route”. The research, supervised by Prof Christo Fabricius of the SRU with Dr Janina Wozniak of the Dept. of Journalism and Media Studies, received occalades from an external examiner and both supervisor. It was described as “an ‘outstanding’ transdisciplinary arts and science masters” and “a celebration of transdisciplinarity”.

Thea wanted to understand the links between farmers’ use of media and interpersonal networks and their water conservation practices, by asking: “what contributes to farmers’ perceptions of water regulation and conservation?”; “how do these perceptions inform their behaviours?”; and “how do farmers access and share information”? After analysing the content of hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles and interviewing scores of farmers, she found that it was mostly weekly farming magazines and interpersonal communications that shaped their perceptions. Farmers were acutely aware of their ecological impacts and were actually doing something about it, although this depended heavily on their financial situations. Her research shows that modern farmers are more likely to adopt conservation practices than their traditional counterparts, but only if this helps them achieve their economic, social and environmental goals.

Thea is more than just an outstanding student. During her two-year stint with the Sustainability Research Unit (2014-2015) she made a magnificent contribution by maintaining the SRU web site, helping to start the Kaaimans to Touw blog on invasive plant management, participating in umpteen community engagement events, and providing endless live (some might call it ‘rowdy') entertainment with her stories about farms and farmers. Says supervisor Christo Fabricius: “What I admire most about this research is the way she managed to cross the floor from media studies to sustainability science, and how easily she coped with this”. Her external examiner, a well-known Professor of Environmental Communication in the US, commented: “I…want to commend the author on merging different bodies of theory to create a compelling analysis and meaningful results that can help inform decision making..Overall, an outstanding job”.

Nelson Mandela University’s Sustainability Research Unit hopes to maintain its ties with this outstanding student by working with her on a number of academic publications and eventually inviting her back as a Doctoral student.