Etnografija medgeneracijskih odnosov. Dom in delo na kmetijah skozi življenjske pripovedi


Duška Knežević Hočevar

In the monograph (‘Ethnography of intergenerational relations: home and work on farms through life stories’), intergenerational relationships are discussed along the lines of demographical anthropology (Chapter 1). The academic debates have proved the longevity of this research topic; however, the relationships among generations are constantly rejuvenated in discussions on social consequences and repercussions of current demographic trends, particularly of low fertility and population ageing. In the context of the latter discussions, the reader is informed about biased academic representations of the life of old people in the past which as a rule have forged simplistic images on unquestioned supportive relationships among the generations, living in extended multigenerational farm families under ‘the same roof’, in contrast to people from urban settings.

Chapter 2 summarizes the recent discussion on the complex nature of intergenerational relationships and the established approaches of studying this issue. Confronting the observers of various epistemological and methodological backgrounds it brings to the fore a classical research dilemma of whether the relationships of solidarity, conflict or ambivalence among generations are a matter of individual experience or social structure, or else, how to ‘catch’ a social norm through the observation of individual agency. This monograph focuses on the understandings of such relationships in adult family members combining two approaches: life-course analyses are grounded in adult family members’ life career stories upgraded by the socio-psychological study on understanding their quality of life. The ethnographic research was designed on the general findings of a previous survey on gender and generations on farms in Slovenia (Chapter 3) to obtain new knowledge about the relationships among generations and gender in the context of farming development. The recently introduced measures of Early Retirement of Farmers (2004) and Setting Up of Young Farmers (2005) in Slovenia aimed precisely at assuring farming continuity and encouraging the due transfer of farms from the older to the younger generation. The survey’s general finding was that the most vital (as to the size of farms, education of its members and their fertility) were the farms which had received both forms of aid. Yet these households show some ‘rigid’ features, too. The young successors (the beneficiaries) did not participate in wider social networks. Their social network still consisted of their closer siblings only. Division of labour among the family members was less flexible in view of their particular interests, and the younger generation was still committed to providing care for the older generation either due to the ‘preservation of tradition’ or the lack of some services in their living environment. Whether these ‘rigid features’ are a potential source for development of supportive, conflicting or ambivalent relationships among the members of farm families, either the beneficiaries or the non-beneficiaries of both forms of aid, was the point of departure of ethnographic study on practices of support in multigenerational farm families. Intertwined spheres of ‘work’ (Chapter 5) and ‘home’ (Chapter 6) on the farm were observed through the life stories of all adult family members and not from the view of only one household interviewee as designed in the previous survey. Six multigenerational farm families (two beneficiaries of the aid of SYF and ER, and one candidate for the aid SYF, and three non-beneficiaries) were selected in Prekmurje (NE Slovenia, bordering Austria, Hungary and Croatia). This is a region with the most favourable conditions for agriculture, but only a small proportion of farms is occupied exclusively with farming. The specialty of the region is that more than half of the households are at least partially engaged in farming, indicating that the share of half-workers half-farmers prevails. In 2009, the largest Slovenian apparel producer and a meat processing company located in the main town of the region, declared bankruptcy and some thousands of employees lost their jobs. This economic crisis was expected to trigger full-time employment on farms of those workers who lost their jobs and who had previously combined their off-farm employment with work on the farm. The fieldwork material shows that both observed groups of family farms differ mostly by enlarged farm capacities (the size of farmland, the number of livestock and the building capacities) at the time the younger operator took over the farm, and the number of employed family members on the farms. The beneficiaries of both forms of aid have considerably increased their farm capacities, which was also proved by the previous survey. Characteristic for these farms are employed parents on the farm for most of their working career. Therefore, the higher number of employed family members on the beneficiary farms compared to the non-beneficiary farms is not a revelation. The latter have one member employed on the farm, usually the operator. Compared to the previous survey, this study shows that the highest completed education is not ‘typical’ for the beneficiary group only. The university educated spouses are found among the young transferees as well as among the adult children from the farms without a secured successor. And on the contrary, individuals with completed elementary education are met among the young farmers as well as their parents. This study has not proved a uniform pattern of ‘traditional commitment’ of the younger generation to take care of the older generation of family members. Domestic care ‘in old age’ as preferred option in comparison with the institutional care applies for both generations irrespective of the observed farm. Despite the expectation that young transferees and those who stay on the farm would take care of their old parents, this is a commitment of their spouses. Irrespective of the generation observed and the farm type, the care for the elderly and children remains the working domain of women who, irrespective of their age, take this task for granted. As with the survey, this study also shows that everyday activities of family members of the beneficiary farms encompass mutual regular or occasional assistance to farms or families of their relatives, usually to their siblings who have moved from their farms of origin. However, this practice is found among the non-beneficiary households as well, whose members are embedded in ‘outside’ family networks of giving and receiving assistance; frequently with other siblings and relatives and rarely with neighbours and friends. Considering daily tasks of each family member during their life careers, there are no pronounced differences between the two observed groups. The analysis of life stories points to common features of both groups of farm families on the one hand, and to potential sources for evolving of various ‘types’ of relationships among the generations, on the other hand. There found out to be three general ‘fields of disagreement’, a potential source for ambivalent or conflicting relationships among the members of multigenerational farm families. First, the entry to the new family environment as experienced and understood by a spouse or the family in which they have married. Second source of disagreement refers to decision-making about the way and timing of work on the farm; the younger as well as the older generation as a rule imagine the work on the farm ‘on their own’. Finally, the basis for disagreement pertains to a diverse imagining of caring for the elderly, children and family members who need the permanent assistance by those involved in these activities. That interpersonal relationship among the family members reflects feelings of ‘emotional closeness’, mutual expectations and commitments is proved by the socio-psychological study (Chapter 7), which sought to identify the simultaneous positive and negative feelings towards the same person. Comparisons of observed groups (by age, gender, and type of farm household) show that, in general, adult children experience a more ambivalent relationship towards their fathers than to their mothers, spouses are more ambivalent towards their fathers-in-law than fathers-in-law towards them, fathers-in-law are more ambivalent towards their sons-in-law than to daughters-in-law, and daughters-in-law are more ambivalent towards their fathers-in-law than to their mothers-in-law. These findings mirror the still patriarchal organisation of farm family communities in which the male members, irrespective of their age or kin relation, are recognised as the most accountable holders. The life stories of collocutors reveal that as a rule a son takes over the farm, men perform mechanised tasks on the farm, although women are capable of doing the same, and women perform caring work while men do not. Finally, such practices reflect the community’s expectations towards men and women and their adopted responsibilities. The embedded socio-psychological study in the anthropologically designed fieldwork has proved to be valuable only within the domain of interpretations extracted from the life stories of collocutors.


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18. February 2013


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ISBN-13 (15)


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ISBN-13 (15)


Physical Dimensions

168 mm x 235 mm