Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Flexible Families: Capitalist Development and Crisis in Rural Peru

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Flexible Families: Capitalist Development and Crisis in Rural Peru

Article excerpt

This paper presents a case study of changes in family relations in the context of economic crisis following a period of emerging capitalism. The particular ways in which households and communities interact with the political and economic processes of the larger society have an impact on the form and function of the household and on the families on which they are based. However, capitalist development, while perhaps transforming the family, does not destroy it (Hareven, 1994; Wilson and Pahl, 1988). The flexibility of the family can be seen as it reformulates to deal with changing economic circumstances. When reformulation happens as families adapt to economic crisis, there are both stresses which cause tension in the family and forces which keep it together. Among these is uncertainty about the severity and longevity of the crisis: will this instability become "normal" or will it be replaced by a more stable economy? This uncertainty causes people to act tentatively rather than decisively, and also leads individuals and families in different directions. This paper links changes in relations and roles within families in a peasant village in central Peru to historical economic processes related to, the establishment and disruption of capitalism.

I do not mean to imply that a utopian precapitalist family form has been degraded through members' reliance on capitalist activities to make a living. Indeed, elsewhere (Vincent, 1999) 1 have argued that the job opportunities presented by the changing economy allow freedom from the traditional family for women. Here I am interested in analysing qualitative changes in family relations as family ties become separate from reproductive economic ties.

The case I will describe concerns the Peruvian peasant community of Mata Chico whose members have increased their involvement in capitalist economic processes', especially through male migrant proletarianization but also through other activities, throughout the twentieth century. In the 1980s this involvement was disrupted as Peru went through an economic crisis characterized by hyperinflation and high unemployment. By this time, proletarianization had already profoundly changed the community and the households within it. In particular, family relations changed over the period of capitalist involvement as community interests gave way to complementary interests. By "community interests", I mean that the family engaged in the same activities and with the same goals over the life cycle. Thus, different generations within a family may undertake distinct, mutually supporting activities at any single moment, but the ultimate common goal was to take over the family farm. Gradually this has given way to what I call "complementary interests", in which different members of the family continue to engage in distinct, mutually supporting activities, but there is much less expectation that younger members will eventually take over the farm. Relations are more flexible and less all-encompassing in this new family form, but they remain strong as they provide needed support in confronting the rigours of economic crisis.

HOUSEHOLDS, FAMILIES AND THE ECONOMY

It is common to distinguish between the household and the family by defining the former in economic terms as a group endeavouring to ensure its own reproduction (Vincent, 1992:32-33), while the latter is defined as an affective kinship group (Rapp, 1991:1989). The analysis presented here explores the relationship between the economic household and the affective family. Elsewhere (Vincent, 1992: 32) 1 have defined the household as a group of people with differential rights to and obligations for the provision of services and goods used for the daily reproduction of the group. The core of the household in Mata Chico is the family, sometimes in the form of the nuclear family and sometimes as an extended family. Other people may attach themselves to the fringe of wealthy households, with fewer rights and obligations, but still providing reproductive services in exchange for household resources. …

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