Identity and the future : the experience of retired family farmers in the Manawatu : a dissertation presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Masters of Arts in Social Anthropology at Massey University
Family farming has, in recent decades, become a growing area of enquiry for social scientists. Post 1980 globally, and in New Zealand, research focused on a perceived rural crisis, which was characterised by the withdrawal of state subsidies and the exposure of the family farmer to the free market. Many began to question whether the family farm would survive. The future of the family farm is a contentious topic, with theories of its impending demise or survival at the forefront of debate. However, in recent literature there is a recognition that a focus on solely structural change is not enough. This study is a response to the recognition that an understanding of the subjective aspects of family farming is required. Taking a small cohort of retired Manawatu farmers this study provides an insight into the subjective dimensions of family farming and the social construction of 'farmer identity'. The participant's accounts are contextualised by a consideration of both regional and national historical processes that have shaped and continue to shape, family farming practice and farmer identity. The study suggests that accounts which conceptualise 'family' farming as either oppositional or outside of a capitalist system of production are inappropriate in the New Zealand context; ignore the intimate relation between family farming and the capitalist system; which represents a tendency to rely on common sense assumptions about the nature of the family and family farming with no empirical justification. These accounts are typically ahistorical. This study reveals that in taking into account the historical underpinnings of the family farm in the Manawatu and New Zealand more generally, and by focusing on the subjective aspects of what it means to be a farmer engaged in family farming, it is possible to understand the relation between capitalism and family farming.