Imagine a politician who spends the day debating new farming regulations in Parliament. She calls into the supermarket for some groceries on the way home, and then goes to a restaurant for a meal later. The politician will have approached food in 3 entirely different ways - at work as a matter for regulation, in the supermarket in terms of price and attractiveness, and in the restaurant in terms of service and sophistication.
These three different contexts have involved the same food - the contents of the shopping basket are the same as the food on the plate in the restaurant, and the same subject of the regulations. The same food is evaluated in different ways, and different discourses are used about it in the different contexts.
Another approach is that a person takes on different roles (or sub-personalities) regarding food: e.g. as historian, investor, politician, consumer, gardener, etc
- A historian would look at how food and food production has developed (or remember previous decades of their personal history).
- An investor would look at the investment potential of companies in the food sector.
- A politician may look at campaigns, trends and public opinion
- A consumer might approach food in terms of price or health, or as a gourmet.
- A farmer or gardener would see the work involved in growing crops, and consider the dangers of pests and diseases
We step in and out of these roles during the day, and collectively, we step into similar roles as members of organisations, lobbies and businesses, for example, members of these corporate entities look at their "markets" and "operations" differently to the way individuals do. When we are at work we may subordinate ourselves to the organisation, and think on its behalf.
There are 3 main approaches to organising and understanding these fields of context:-
- van Dijk and other academics look at Context as an inner cognitive device, describing how we organise our minds and thoughts.
- These collective mental maps are externalised in the printed and broadcast media, and most clearly of all in the internet, which now contains nearly all of our discourses. The internet can be described as an expression of ALL the elements of ALL our minds, and it can be used to map our consensus reality.
- The context can also be imagined as a Landscape with a variety of actors who take up positions in relation to each other, and which relate to the Context Landscape in a variety of ways. It can be very valuable to map a landscape and imagine a drama in this way.
This Context Survey technique can be used for any topic of interest. My case study of the context of food and farming includes 60 web pages from a wide range of organisations, and some interesting conclusions are drawn from the patterns which are revealed. The web pages include an overview of recent developments in food production, web pages from different organisations, which together form a "map" of the food sector, drawing all their different perspectives into one system of "the field and the players". This can be examined for patterns and further information. Context analysis is the key to using my other techniques - without a rigorous examination of the context, it is easy to stay in a for/against discourse about any topic. Examination of the context helps to shift from this to a more inclusive overview.