The Effects of Storytelling on Worldview and Attitudes toward Sustainable Agriculture

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Virginia Tech


There is evidence that the American agrifood system is a significant contributor to environmental, economic, social, and ethical-animal welfare damage to the earth and to society and is unsustainable, yet the worldview of a substantial percentage of the population conflicts with this assessment. A significant number of researchers, non-governmental organizations, and government entities assert that the detrimental effects of industrial agriculture must be addressed without delay and sustainable agricultural practices implemented. The transition from industrial to sustainable agriculture will not be a simple one. Attempting to change a worldview is not an easy task. A growing body of research in other disciplinary areas suggests that storytelling can serve as an effective method of fostering change. This mixed-methods study examines the role of storytelling in effecting positive change in worldview and attitudes toward sustainable agriculture. A review of the related literature revealed that no instrument was available to measure attitudes toward sustainable agriculture with consideration of economic, environmental, social, and ethical-animal welfare dimensions. The first objective of the study, therefore, was to design such an instrument. The instrument is called The Sustainable Agriculture Paradigm Scale and is used as a pre and post-test in the study. A number of open-ended questions were added to the post-test to solicit qualitative data. The study explores the effects of Story-based, that is, a told story and a read story, versus Information-based treatments, that is, a lecture and a read factsheet, on effecting positive change in attitudes toward sustainable agriculture. The qualitative data provides a secondary, supportive role exploring what characteristics of a story are associated with change. The hypothesis of the study is that Story-based treatments will be more effective in promoting positive change than will Information-based treatments. The findings of the study provide evidence supporting this hypothesis. The story characteristics found to be associated with positive change included: first-hand personal view, vivid description, and identification with the narrator.



Storytelling, Narrative, Social Change, Sustainable Agriculture, Drama Theory