Symbolic Interactionism: A Framework for Understanding Risk-Taking Behaviors in Farm Communities

J Agromedicine. 2017;22(1):26-35. doi: 10.1080/1059924X.2016.1248306.


Risk behaviors are key drivers of occupationally related injuries and illnesses, considerably impacting the uptake and success of injury interventions, technologies, and practices. This is certainly true in the agricultural sector, where farmers often ignore recommended safety practices or have even been known to disable safety technologies. Although research studies have characterized specific individual safety or risk behaviors, few studies have thoroughly examined farmers' risk and safety orientations or how these develop in response to environmental and societal exposures. This study utilizes data collected over the past decade with a variety of small to midsize farm personnel to explore the meanings that farmers ascribe to risk and safety and how these influence risk and safety behaviors. In all, over 90 interviews with farmers, farm-wives, and family members were reviewed. Researchers used a grounded theory approach to identify patterns of environmental and societal exposures, as well as their impact on farmers' risk and safety orientations. Analysis revealed exposures and orientations to risk and safety, which could be largely explained through the lens of symbolic interactionism. This framework posits that people create a sense-of-self as a way of adjusting and adapting to their environment. For farmers in this study, belief in their ability to persevere allows them to succeed, despite the considerable stressors and challenges they face each day. However, this identity can, at times, be maladaptive when it is applied to safety decisions and hazard exposures. The authors discuss the implications of this research and how it may be used to productively inform future farm safety efforts.

Keywords: Anthropology; farm safety; farmer identity; risk behavior; symbolic interactionism.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Agriculture* / economics
  • Child
  • Family / psychology
  • Farmers / psychology*
  • Farms* / economics
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interview, Psychological
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Occupational Health* / economics
  • Risk-Taking
  • Safety / economics
  • Workforce
  • Young Adult