Year of Publication

2011

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Dissertation

College

Arts and Sciences

Department

Sociology

First Advisor

Dr. Loraine Garkovich

Abstract

Employing a wide range of theoretical and methodological tools, practitioners within an array of disciplines have attempted to gain new understanding about the structural changes in the agricultural system in the United States and around the world. From Agricultural Economists to Sociologists, quantitative and qualitative research has attempted to shed light on structural change in agriculture and its implications for the real lives of farmers, their families, and consumers of their goods. The current research adopts a comparative-historical approach to examining the particular affects of structural change in six counties in central Nebraska. The general theoretical frame on which this project is based is Human Ecology, as developed by Robert E. Park. It examines the importance of four environmental orders, the natural-biological, the economic, the political, and the moral-cultural. In order to ameliorate some perceived problems with Park’s stance, including a level of rigidity, his model is modified through the use of the Marxian concept of “overdetermination,” which recognizes the complex relations among a range of social processes. Overdetermination is defined in terms of the recognition of the mutually constitutive nature of all social processes, with the character of each process determined by its relationships with all other social processes.

Results suggest a very complex reality in which farmers and their families live in the 21st century. Relations were found among factors and processes both within and between Park’s environmental orders. Farm families have developed and deployed a wide range of strategies in response to structural change within each of the environmental orders. For example, some farmers invest in technology as a means to remain more competitive. Others choose production types that are more labor-intensive and less technologically based. Some farm family members seek off-farm employment or become involved in local political processes while others are involved in civic or religious organizations as a means of coping with the changes they have experienced. Social and geographic isolation impact the strategies adopted, as do natural conditions and processes, such as dominant soil type. Ultimately, this project, while it reveals a wealth of information, also raises many questions that can only be answered by the farm families themselves.

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