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"Modernity" and U.S. farm women's poultry operations. Jane Adams, Southern Illinois University

The perspective that rural areas are "victims of progress" stems, in part, from a received "community study" tradition that has viewed rural communities as semi-autonomous entities that can be studied in relative isolation from the larger societies in which they are "embedded." This is, of course, rooted in a long-discredited functionalist theoretics and a preceding intellectual tradition that viewed modernity as radically other than all "preceding" social orders, in which paradigmatic contrasts (status/contract, gemeinschaft/geselleschaft, rural/urban, traditional/modern, etc.) were conceived of as temporal orderings. It stems, as well, from the "unequal development" that characterizes the participation of agriculture and of other rural-based economic activities in the political and economic organization of industrial capitalism (Mann 1990).

This perspective conflates, however, the intellectual and normative ordering that corresponded with industrialization and, in the West, with capitalism, thereby bracketing (most) rural people from any role in history but that of victim. This perspective collides directly with the expressed views of many rural people, who actively sought "modernity" in all or many of its forms.(2) It also reifies the specific forms of modernity that developed in Europe and its settler colonies as inevitable and determined, when it should be viewed, I argue, as contingent and negotiated.(3)
"Modernity" and U.S. farm women's poultry operations: farm women nourish the industrializing cities 1880-1940. Paper presented at the international conference, The Chicken: Its Biological, Social, Cultural, and Industrial History: From Neolithic Middens to McNuggets. May 17-19, 2002, Yale University, Program in Agrarian Studies. © Jane Adams 2002

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Farm couple collect eggs for sale. Southern Illinois University Morris Library Special Collections.

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An itinerant phoographer made this photo of the Rhodes family, rural Union County, Illinois, in the late 1800s. Rhodes collection, Southern Illinois University Morris Library Special Collections.