The Puritan work ethic of the founding English Protestants of the early American colonies remains deeply embedded in modern Americans’ views towards hard work and determination as the only path to success and even salvation.
However, when considering the smallholder there are several competing views that regard their agricultural practices as either honest and idyllic, or backwards and grueling. Netting argues that before promoting an evolutionary trajectory that positions labor-saving technology as the pinnacle of progress, it is necessary to review the reasoning and ramifications. Smallholders, in fact, are placed in an economic and social position in which they must make the most out of limited resources. In order to increase the productivity of a small piece of land, they intensify their relatively abundant resources of labor and managerial forethought. It must also be noted that while potential smallholders in the developed world have a myriad of occupational and technological options that they can incorporate into their productive endeavors, others in developing countries often do not have any full-time employment opportunities. By maintaining the means of production, the fruits of their own labor serves to support them and provide nourishment and security. As Netting argues, “smallholders do indeed invest a great deal of year-round labor, much of it manual, but whether the actual hours exceed those of a small restaurant keeper, a street vendor, or a stockbroker is open to question” (331).
Successful smallholder enterprises work as a family unit, performing complimentary tasks in order to provide nourishment and support their children, who quickly learn to become productive members of the household as well. Slow periods during the growing season are filled-in by increasing activities outside of the farm and through extending productive farm activities. In terms of the output over input ratio per unit of land, smallholders embody the Puritan notion of success. Describing one smallholder in North China in the early 1900s who grew enough cucumber vines on a half-acre plot of land to provide for 20 people, Netting quotes F.H. King who noted that “Forethought, after-thought, and the mind focused on the work in hand are characteristics of these people” (49). The Protestant virtues of hard work, responsibility, and deferred rewards, along with a strong concept of private property and managerial acumen, strongly correlates with the requirements of a successful smallholder enterprise. Part-time farmers in Georgia describe the physical work of growing their own food as deeply and personally satisfying, but gave greater emphasis on the values and responsibilities that became part of their family heritage. As Netting argues, “Despite the popular prejudice, labor-saving is not the chief end of life, and farm work is not a bad thing” (331).
The American Context:
Review of Relevant Literature:
Difference and Conflict in the Struggle Over Natural Resources:
A Political Ecology Framework
By Arturo Escobar
Similarly, the perspectives and life strategies of smallholders should not only be given voice, but granted the right to their own cultural approaches of development. By furthering our understanding of these various cultural differences we can take the holistic approach and learn about alternative ways of thinking and knowing, while potentially seeing a little bit of the self in the other.
Anthropologists are beginning to raise awareness of how culturally defined paradigms construct nature in ways that differ dramatically from Western conceptions. However, these worldviews complicate conflicts over natural resources when nature is considered outside of economic terms. Escobar sets out to understand the economic, ecological and cultural differences that are having an impact on environmental movements and policies around the world. He finds that environmental economics operates within the market economy in order to document the “so-called externalities associated with economic processes.” However he considers this form of economic analysis to further market-driven ideologies. Escobar then describes ecological economists position that market evaluations can never properly account for socio-environmental processes. Finally, Escobar introduces the concept of cultural diversity as models that redefine environmental issues outside of economic models. He suggests that the diverse cultural meanings that are mapped onto nature by distinct human groups encourages “social groups and communities to engage in other types of development approaches and economies.” Escobar recommends fully embracing these differences and accepting that neither current liberal or neo-liberal ideologies can appease the demand for fully-realized economic, ecological, and cultural differences.
The Concept and Method of Cultural Ecology
By Julian Steward
Cultural ecology’s focus on how particular technologies are used and influence cultural behavior and patterns within different environments is important consider in the analysis of how the self-sustainability community operates within the various regions of the United States. The three fundamental procedures that Steward puts forward can serve as a useful and relevant methodological approach examining how sustainable practices and renewal technologies are adopted and utilized in the United States.
The field of cultural ecology provides important methodological tools to better identify and explain how some cultural features and patterns arise out of the local environment. However, the issue persists of determining whether environmental adaptations prescribe particular cultural features or if there is still leeway for variability. Julian Steward employs the methodologies of cultural ecology and the concept of the “cultural core” to identify how cultures adjust to their local environmental features (29).
He argues that the “complexity and level of the culture” must be considered in the concept of environmental adaptations and emphasizes three fundamental procedures (34). The first procedure involves examining the way that exploitative and productive technology interconnects with the environment. For instance, environmental features are more important in simpler cultures than in those that are more developed. The second procedure requires analyzing the behavior patterns associated with the specific exploitative technology used in a specific region. Local resources and natural features utilized for transportation largely determine social organization of exploitative activities. Finally, the third procedure involves determining how much, if at all, behavior patterns associated with exploitative activities influence secondary cultural features. For instance, cultural and environmental conventions may only be subjectively associated with other cultural features or be better explained by history.
Steward argues that cultural patterns can only be understood as an amalgamation of environmental adaptations of the cultural core within the context of a level of each culture’s social coordination. As a foundational piece, Steward puts forward a epistemological argument and doesn’t provide any specific examples that demonstrate her arguments in practice.
The Anti-Politics Machine:
“Development” and Bureaucratic Power in Lesotho
By James Ferguson with Larry Lohmann
Pointing out the futility of development projects initiated by agencies of the developed world, Ferguson and Lohman seem to suggest that what is required is the dismantling of larger, systemic political and economic inequalities and injustices in the world. While this may be seen as idealistic, grassroot solutions that start at the individual level but have far reaching consequences to the current power structures can affect positive change. Smallholder practices in the American context can disrupt environmentally damaging market practices while demonstrating the viability of certain practices in developing countries.
Governmental and nongovernmental agencies spend massive amounts of money and effort on development projects every year in order to provide aid and assistance to countries in the developing world. However, despite consistent efforts, many of these projects persistently fail to achieve their goals. Ferguson and Lohman examine development projects within the African country of Lesotho over the past several decades as well as international reports of the region that helped shape the policy actions of the projects. They find that reports on Lesotho portray the country as a “traditional subsistence peasant society” that bears little resemblance to the present or historical situation of Lesotho (414). Ferguson and Lohmann argue that a one-size-fits-all narrative of developing countries allows development agencies to formulate initiatives as a universal framework.
Development planners operating in Lesotho also regarded their role as apolitical and actively chose to ignore the presence of elites or institutional corruption within internal government institutions. A project in Lesotho to promote the commercial productivity of the country’s livestock contradicted the deeply embedded social and economic role of livestock. As a result, the project was met with resistance and incited social discord. Ultimately, development projects in Lesotho had the unintended consequence of aiding the government in building a much stronger presence in the regions targeted by development projects.