Cultivating Dissent: Work, Identity and Praxis in Rural Languedoc

By Jaffe, Alexandra | Anthropological Quarterly, Spring 2002 | Go to article overview

Cultivating Dissent: Work, Identity and Praxis in Rural Languedoc


Jaffe, Alexandra, Anthropological Quarterly


Cultivating Dissent: Work, Identity and Praxis in Rural Languedoc. Winnie Lem. Albany: SUNY Press, 1999; 268 pp.

One of the first books to come out in the SUNY Series in National Identities, Lem's study of a rural, wine-growing population in Southern France focuses on individual and collective agency of small-scale farmers in the context of large-scale historical and economic processes that have influenced French agriculture. She examines the social, cultural and economic logics behind the persistence of small, family farms and regional cultures in the face of market forces and French national politics that should, in theory, have made local economies and cultural forms less viable. The overall argument of the book is that small-scale agriculture and local/regional identity and political consciousness persist both as forms of resistance to large-scale capitalism and French nationalism, and as techniques of accommodation to market and political forces brought on by "modernization" and government policies. While Lem's materialist focus emphasizes the material conditions under which local cultures and economies are produced and changed, she also pays attention to cultural discourses about collective identity and agency.

The book is divided into two parts. The first, "Place, Politics and identity" deals with the relationship between political action and collective action, and is comprised of three chapters. Chapter One provides a historical introduction to viniculture in "Broussan," the village in Southern France where Lem's fieldwork was conducted. While there have always been class distinctions between large landholders and other wine growers and laborers, Lem shows how capitalist transformations in the last century have increased social and economic differentiation between different participants in this market. In Chapter Two, Lem explores the history of political practice and class consciousness in the area, where people are "heirs to a vigorous tradition of what can only be called class struggle" (11). This class struggle includes a history of a number of different forms of resistance to government policies favoring "modernization" and the interests of large landholders. These include collective action within political structures (such as mobilizing candidates for election to the Chamber of Agriculture), collective action outside due political process-riots, strikes, demonstrations and guerilla tactics (smashing bottles of foreign wine in supermarkets)-and "everyday" or "clandestine" forms of resistance such as "partial compliance" with government rules against planting high-yielding vines and not declaring money made in the informal economy. These forms of resistance, Lem points out, have taken place alongside forms of accommodation to government policies: acceptance of government subsidies and participation in the government programs of agricultural modernization. Chapter Three identifies the range and occasional ambiguities of collective identities that are mobilized in Broussan. These include identification with the working class and its experience of being exploited, regional/ethnic identification as Occitan, and regional identification as Southern (vs. Northern) French. Overall, the chapter makes the important point that both "elements of local cultural participation and elements of a universalistic, class participation as members of the French working class...[have] configured political praxis in ways that forcefully challenge state hegemony" (99). However, while Lem shows that Occitan culture plays a significant role in the rhetoric and symbolism of mass protest, the extent to which the people of Broussan participate in the regionalist movement (and engage with its goals of linguistic and political autonomy) is less clear. Lem's critique of previous anthropological work on rural farmers also seems to me to overstate the extent to which those farmers are depicted in "fixed," "eternal" and traditional images. …

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