Academic journal article Rural Society

Moving to the 'Big' House: Power and Accommodation in Inter-Generational Farming Families

Academic journal article Rural Society

Moving to the 'Big' House: Power and Accommodation in Inter-Generational Farming Families

Article excerpt

Relationship management is an issue of on going concern for farming families. Combining close kin relationships, business partnerships and close physical proximity in living arrangements, a successful family farm requires on going negotiations between family members to maintain both the family unit and the farm as functioning entities. This paper examines the role of one of the central relationships on the family farm in negotiating the balance of power and diffusing tensions, the relationship between the mother and daughter in law. Although one of the most significant relationships within multi generational farming families, it remains one of the least analysed in the rural sociology literature.

In making the relationship between the two women the focus of analysis, this paper seeks to deepen our understanding of the position of women in farming families. The paper will begin with an analysis of existing literature regarding the role of women on the farm and the position of daughters in law in farming families. Sources of power for women will be discussed, as will the role of the relationship between women within families. Using case studies of two mother / daughter in law relationships, I will examine how these relationships are negotiated through the occupation of a particular structure on the farm the 'big house' or main farmhouse. This relationship from the perspective of the women involved, and identifies it as reflecting and maintaining the balance of power and decision making within farming families by providing a channel for the expression of disagreements and tensions between family members that does not directly effect the daily management of the farm itself. Instead, overt hostility and conflict are avoided, and tensions are expressed through discussions surrounding living arrangements on the property, in particular, occupation of the main homestead, the 'big house'.

Mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law: in the literature and on the farm

The relationship between mothers and daughters in law remains one of the most important, and paradoxically one of the least discussed, relationships in literature dealing with family farming. This relationship serves as a bond and a conduit and source of tension between family members, facilitating on going farm management and the survival of the family unit. Yet it is also under analysed from the perspective of the women involved. Although discussions regarding the difficulty of the relationship are common, analysis is often confined to discussions of the women's relationships (and particularly the daughter in law's) to other family members, and not their relationship to each other (Bryant 1999; Brandth 2002; Alston 2005; Pini 2007).

The relationship between mother and daughter in law is acknowledged as being one of the most ambivalent relationships in Western families (Turner, Young and Black 2006). Fischer notes that across Western societies, "surveys consistently have indicated mothers in law to be the most disliked of all relatives ..." (Fischer 1983, p. 187) and this relationship is identified as causing the most stress for all parties involved (Turner et al. 2006). The source of this stress is to be found in the familial and social context of the relationship combined with expectations surrounding the role of women in the family, aspects which are exacerbated within the context of a family farm.

Within families, women are identified as 'kinkeepers' of relationships, responsible for creating and maintaining the bonds between generations (Fischer 1983; Turner et al. 2006). However, evidence suggests that couples tend to maintain closer ties with matrilineal family, particularly in relation to caregiving (Shuey and Hardy 2003). This, in part, reflects the close relationship between mother and daughter. However, it also points to the realignment of relationships occurring after marriage: the daughter establishes autonomy from her own mother and family and starts her own. …

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