Market integration and the changing nature of social interactions in agricultural populations

What happens to social networks when long-held subsistence practices, and the close-knit relationships they rely on, are left behind?

Go to the profile of Heidi Colleran
Jan 14, 2020

It is widely assumed that farming or subsistence-based lifestyles depend heavily on family. behind, their social worlds begin to change. In the broadest sense, the power of the family weakens. People interact less with family members,  and become less beholden to the demands of kinship.  

It's actually quite unclear what happens to family dynamics when people become "market integrated". What do economic transitions do to the structure of social interactions?

Simple answers are hard to find because there are so many dimensions: participating in the market economy is a cultural and a sociological activity, as well as an economic one. And the transition from a subsistence economy can be almost imperceptibly gradual: the ability to sell surplus farm produce at a market gives way to the opportunity to buy a mobile phone or a car; to visit new places; meet new people, earn money in new jobs. Over time, occasional market interactions form a backdrop to the 'traditional' subsistence system. The two economic models can co-exist. But with this contact comes the drip drip process of cultural change as peoples' perceptions about the wider world expand, their encounters with foreign concepts and people seem less strange, and their values take on new dimensions. Because all of these features co-evolve, the impacts of subsistence transition can’t be attributed to a single cause.

An abandoned horse-drawn plough in a village in southern Poland in 2010
Go to the profile of Heidi Colleran

Heidi Colleran

Anthropologist, Independent Research Group Leader, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology

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