Many industries have traditions of recognising and rewarding their best The arts, for example, have awards for acting, singing and writing; the service industries recognise the best hairdresser, the best waiter and die best chefs; and many industrial trades award excellence. While country fairs and agricultural shows have long included die spectacles of 'agricultural' contests such as wood chopping and shearing, there are many other agricultural work-skills contests that judge the "best' in die industry, judging skill and technique through the display of stock or crops and farming success. This paper presents an exploratory investigation of the rationale for worker competitions and considers them with reference to three New Zealand agricultural contests: the Young Farmer of the y^ ^. Golden Shears, and the Silver Secateurs.
Theoretically, the paper draws heavily on many of the ideas presented in the only other work found on this subject, Zarnowski's (2004) 'Working at play: The phenomenon of 19th century worker-competitions'. Zarnowski (2004) found that wodi-sports in America operate on three different planes: they are educational, they o ffer a means for workers to publicly display their skills for a range of reasons, and they are entertainment for the public. There has also been limited discussion of agricultural contests in a number of papers that focus on broader aspects of rural society. Such contests, for example, may be considered important for both worker socialisation and for production expertise. They may also have strong community or cultural meanings, and offer exhibitions of performance or spectacle. The resultant paper is something of a hybrid because it cuts across traditional disciplinary boundaries between the histories of work and sport, agricultural education and extension. It is the authors' intention to explore ideas and ways in which theory 'might' explain the practice of agricultural contests, and to draw attention to an area of interest that has, thus far, been largely ignored in the social sciences.
While agricultural contests have attracted little specific attention in academic literature, they can be considered from a variety of theoretical perspectives. Zarnowski (2004), for example, examined 19th century American workercompetitions, defined as "physical contests derived from alabourer's occupation" (p. 258), through a synthesis of labour and sporting history. He considered issues of worker alienation, productivity, and the nature of leisure time as both an explanation of, and rationale for, these worker-competitions. Although they closely resemble formal sporting competitions, there has been a surprising lack of interest in worker-competitions from sports historians (Zarnowski, 2004). They do, however, feature in historical accounts of leisure, and are of special interest in terms of the work-leisure relationship.
Generally leisure is taken to involve activities that occur within free time - time free from work (Dumazedier, 1974). This may encompass activities ranging from simple " 'play' for enjoyment or relaxation to games that involve competition of some kind. Sociologists of leisure frequendy point out that 'play cannot be understood apart from work, family, community, and technology" (Cross, 1990, p. 4). The early forms of leisure documented in 17th century Britain were activities that provided a break from the toils of work- games Eke dice and chess or singing weie popular. However, rural fairs were also popular and often featured games that were natural extensions of everyday work lives, using ordinary tools and stressing physical endurance. Athletic contests in Britain before 1850 were deeply rooted in agrarian society - displaying talents relevant to this. Sporting contests at this time were often waged between villages rather than individuals - building loyalty to the group was important (Cross, 1990).
There are few specific references to worker competitions; even Thompson's (1980) seminal study of the English working class does not make a single reference to these. …