Research on Women in Canadian Culture

By Shaver, Frances | Women and Environments, Spring 1996 | Go to article overview

Research on Women in Canadian Culture


Shaver, Frances, Women and Environments


For most of its history, research on women in agriculture has been subsumed under studies of the family farm, or hidden in monographs dealing with life in the rural community. Canadian activists and scholars, decrying the lack of a substantial body of literature in the social sciences on farm women, began to redress the balance in the early 1970s. This process was accelerated in the early 1980s. Nevertheless, scholars and researchers alike have failed to incorporate women's work and the issues of importance to them into the mainstream literature on Canadian agriculture.

The Farm Women's Bureau invited me to update a bibliography and review of the literature that had its beginning in a special 1982 issue of Resources for Feminist Research. The mandate was twofold: prepare a bibliography of Canadian literature written about farm women since 1980 and provide a comprehensive review of that body of work.

The 210 entries cited in the bibliography are organized around several themes including: women's contribution to agriculture, the impact of social and structural change, the recognition and resolution of equity issues, quality of life issues, the role of women in sectoral decision-making, and farm women's movements. The review provides a more detailed critique of the material compiled for the bibliography. Information on the methodology and search procedures is provided along with a brief overview of the material collected. The predominating themes are discussed and the scope and origin of the work within each is analyzed. Critical theoretical issues are highlighted as well. What follows are excerpts from this report.

UNDER-REPRESENTED THEMES

Examination of the 210 references in the bibliography indicates some topics are under-represented. Barely six per cent relate to the role of farm women in sectoral decisionmaking. Studies dealing with quality of life issues, the farm women's movement, and the impact of social and structural change on farm women each capture a 15 per cent share of the total. Equity and legal issues, and studies describing farm women's contribution to agriculture garner the most attention (27 per cent and 41 per cent respectively).

Most of the studies originate in Quebec (20 per cent) and Ontario (18 per cent). A closer look demonstrates that studies with a primary focus on women's contributions to agriculture are common to all provinces except Newfoundland. Studies highlighting the other themes, however, are concentrated in Ontario and Quebec. This may be justified by the size of the farm population and the large number of farm women concerned: most farm women's organizations are based there and the greatest number (not proportion) of female farm operators live and work in Ontario and Quebec.

FEW STUDIES GROUNDED IN A NATIONAL DATABASE

About one-third of the nationally oriented studies are grounded in census data. Because of the limitations of this data base, most of it has a traditional economic focus: farm financial stress, the integration of farm and off-farm markets, and economic deprivation.

The remaining two-thirds of the studies have Canada as a focus but are not necessarily grounded in a national data base. This work attempts to get behind and beyond the census data and is not as limited in its focus. Links between the agriculture and population censuses that are now available have already made it easier to conduct analyses that go beyond the traditional economic focus.

SHORTAGE OF THEORETICALLYORIENTED STUDIES

The report also identifies the methodological approach of each entry in the bibliography. Since many items had more than one orientation, this was not an easy task: 40 per cent were classified as having an empirical component; a third (32 per cent) simply provide journalistic commentary: Just over a fifth (22 per cent) are theoretically oriented. Policyoriented research is seriously underdeveloped, even in comparison to historical and theoretical work. …

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