Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Modernising to Remain Traditional: Farm Families Maintaining a Valued Lifestyle*

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Modernising to Remain Traditional: Farm Families Maintaining a Valued Lifestyle*

Article excerpt


The intent of this article is to offer three conceptualisations (a typology, a conditional matrix, and options for farm families remaining "traditional") that can be useful for researching and understanding farming families, especially as they undergo or resist transitions and modernisation. These theoretical constructs are informed by tentative findings from ongoing study of "traditional" farm families in Western Europe. The basic question asked is: How are traditional farm families, within a context of increased internationalisation of policy and markets and related agribusiness commercialisation and industrialisation, able to manage transitions and stress so that a valued lifestyle can be maintained? Case studies and biographic research were used for developing a grounded theoretical model of the process of maintaining traditional farm-family stability. Family stress theory as applied to farm families (Marotz-Baden et al., 1988; Melberg, 2003) was used to orientate the investigation.


In European Union (EU) countries (other than the United Kingdom) and the United States, the idea of "saving the family farm" often sways policy makers (Gasson and Errington, 1993). There are various myths and cultural and political values surrounding the concept of family farm (i.e., these families are seen by politicians as political and social stabilisers and land stewards), and there is a continuum from traditional to modern farm families. A traditional farm (i.e., Bauer) family is one with a specific lifestyle in the forefront (i.e., a valued way of life influencing daily dynamics including familism and collective orientation) that has its roots in the group's particular history as a farm family and in particular regional social patterns. In comparison, a modern farm family (i.e., Land-win und Unternehmer) is one where a rational business orientation as well as an individualised action orientation are in the forefront (Hildenbrand et al., 1992). Furthermore, traditional farm families manifest a tighter integration between family and farm; family life and the activities (business) of farming are inseparable, forming a particular and holistic lifestyle.

Following Planck (1964) and Gasson and Errington (1993), a distinction can be made as follows: a traditional farm family is able to satisfy demands of life for its members out of the intensive independent agricultural running or cultivation of mostly self-owned, inherited land, using mostly family labour. The family is fully occupied by farm labour and the farm income and products support the family. Additionally, the family has legal independence in the sense of owning and managing the farm. In contrast, the EU definition of agriculture households indicates they are those with independent (i.e., self employed) agriculture activity on the holding that is the main source of income for the entire household. In some texts, authors note the necessity of the family supplying the labour (rather than using wage labour) as the distinguishing feature of family farms, but this does not adequately address the issue of traditional compared to modern (see for example, Commandeur, Ramos, and also Rossier in this Special Issue). More modern farm families are likely to be heavily capitalised, use wage labour, and might not be considered "independent" in the sense that accepting loans, government subsidies, and contract work means that others have a stake in and more or less control of the farm management (Gasson and Errington, 1993; Vesala and Peura, this Special Issue).


Levels of Social Action

Earlier work conceptualised four levels of social action (Bohler and Hildenbrand, 1990). Building on this framework, the authors have developed an analytical framework delineating three levels or dimensions upon which farms can vary as to their extent of modernisation or traditionalism. Often the degree of modernisation across the levels does not correspond, and especially at the individual level, differences can be found within the same farm. …

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