A Fifty-Year Overview of Persistence and Change in an Old Order Amish Community

By Bridger, Jeffrey C.; Luloff, A. E. et al. | Journal of the Community Development Society, January 2001 | Go to article overview

A Fifty-Year Overview of Persistence and Change in an Old Order Amish Community


Bridger, Jeffrey C., Luloff, A. E., Ploch, Louis A., Steele, Jennifer, Journal of the Community Development Society


ABSTRACT

The Old Order Amish of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania were studied by Walter Kollmorgen as part of the Rural Life Study series conducted in 1940 by the Bureau of Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture. Kollmorgen's 1942 study provides baseline data for assessing how the Old Order Amish responded to development pressure and land use changes over the ensuing years. Drawing on a narrative approach to analyzing social change, we argue that Amish responses to change can be conceptualized in terms of two related, yet analytically distinct narrative structures--a literal interpretation of the Bible (especially the New Testament) and the Amish history of persecution and martyrdom. The article concludes with a discussion of the implications of our analysis for broader community development issues in other settings.

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INTRODUCTION

The Old Order Amish of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, were one of the original communities studied as part of the Rural Life Study series conducted in 1940 by the Bureau of Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture. Six sites across the nation were selected for in-depth analysis: Harmony, Georgia; Irwin, Iowa; Sublette, Kansas; Landaff, New Hampshire; El Cerrito, New Mexico; and the Old Order Amish of Lancaster County. The communities were chosen to represent points on a continuum from high community stability to great instability (Kollmorgen, 1942). The Old Order Amish, because of their common religion, separation from the larger society, and continuous presence in an eight-town area northeast of Lancaster City since the early 1700s, were selected to represent the most stable community. This 185-square-mile area (see Map 1) of Lancaster County, centers around Leacock Township and includes East Lampeter, West Earl, Upper Leacock, Earl, East Earl, Paradise, and Salisbury Townships. It is also within commuting distance of several metropolitan areas, including Harrisburg, Philadelphia, and Baltimore.

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

When Walter Kollmorgen conducted his study in 1940, the Anabaptist farmers who migrated to Lancaster County from the German Rhineland in colonial times would easily have recognized the culture and lifestyle of their descendants. At that time, the majority of Amish males pursued farming or a closely related occupation, closely following the biblical injunction to "... replenish the earth, and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth" (Gen. 1:28, quoted in Hostetler, 1980, p. 91).

In the years since Kollmorgen conducted his research, Lancaster County has changed dramatically. Our purpose is to document the most significant changes and describe how the same Old Order Amish community studied by Kollmorgen has responded to forces that were just making themselves felt in 1940. In doing so, we approach community change as an emergent process in which social forces and human action exist in a constant state of mutual adjustment (Blumer, 1990). Although social forces impinge powerfully on community life, it is misleading to treat them as if they call forth specific, and in hindsight, predictable responses. Change is always a contingent process. Drawing on Giddens's (1984) structuration theory, Molotch et al. (2000) argue that because we have no choice but to confront new situations by drawing on previous experience, a certain level of continuity and predictability is guaranteed. However, the fact that each historical moment is unique introduces an element of unpredictability: "The resulting configuration, at any moment or place, is thus not predetermined, but is formed in a path-dependent way as each actor, with more or fewer resources at his or her command, shapes a new social structure by drawing on the simultaneously enabling and constraining hand of the old" (Molotch et al., 2000, p. 793). Thus, while social forces set the stage for change, they do not determine the nature, direction, or timing of subsequent events. …

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