MAKIN DO OR CHASING PROFITS? THE AGRARIAN CAPITALISM OF SOUTHERN APPALACHIA
The preindustrial Appalachian economy has primarily been conceptualized as a "folk world of small, isolated, homogeneous societies with a simple and almost self-sufficient economy" that consisted predominantly of small homesteads operated by precapitalist farm owners. Left as they stand in the current literature, simplistic generalizations about "self-sufficiency" or "subsistence" enlighten us very little about antebellum modes of economic production. Stereotypical applications of these concepts have generated several widely held misconceptions. The broad ascription of these terms to almost all American antebellum rural families masks wide disparities in land ownership, occupational status, and wealth. Some writers would have us believe that none of the country's eighteenth- and nineteenth-century farmers were producing commodities for the market or utilizing wage laborers. Moreover, the romantic vulgarization of these concepts prevents our recognition that there were agricultural households who lacked access to land or other means of production and who were forced to sell their labor to wealthier farmers.1
It is necessary, then, to recast these notions into more theoretical terms. Since it is not possible for households to survive without any interdependence with others, we should begin by disposing of the term "self-sufficiency." For some time, economic historians have questioned the notion that American antebellum farmers were either "self-sufficient" or "subsistent." As part of the political ideology associated with the egalitarian "family farm," they argue, the concept "self-sufficiency" does not provide the analytic precision necessary to uncover the complexity and the disparities of rural social structure. The
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Publication information: Book title: The First American Frontier:Transition to Capitalism in Southern Appalachia, 1700-1860. Contributors: Wilma A. Dunaway - Author. Publisher: University of North Carolina Press. Place of publication: Chapel Hill, NC. Publication year: 1996. Page number: 123.