Doctoral Dissertation Research: Schmid: Mobile Farming Families of Southern Appalachia and the Mexican Bajio

Grants and Contracts Details


Problem statement: This transregional ethnographic project examines the intersection of kinship, gender, class, migration and the global agro-food system by tracing the practices of members of a binational kin group and the circulations they engage in through their agricultural enterprises in Mexico and the US. Members of this hierarchical, heterogeneous kin group produce basic grains in the Guanajuato Bajío and tomatoes as a vertically integrated kin-based collectivity in western North Carolina. Family members’ access to social, economic, political and geographic mobility varies along with their state membership and occupational statuses. The central research question asks: how do women and men of this binational kin group from the Guanajuato Bajío conceptualize and draw on “family” relations and temporal-spatial strategies to organize agricultural enterprises in southern Appalachia? These mobile farming families strategically make use of particular agricultural markets, production sites and kin-based relations to gain and retain power over agro-food production and distribution. Methods and analysis: This multi-sited ethnography applies an interpretive and political economic approach complemented by feminist methodology. Preliminary research shows that Mexico-United States family groups contribute to rural industries in regions in the US as well as Mexico. This project will concentrate on one such binational kin group with approximately 120 members. Research will take place in North Carolina for ten months and will be conducted for approximately two months in Guanajuato. The project will document family and enterprise histories, strategies, relations, cultural practices and decision making processes. It will incorporate multiple methodologies including various forms of participant observation, interviewing (e.g., life history interviews) and ethnographic mapping techniques (e.g., full relational network mapping) to analyze how family life articulates with the coordination of production-distribution enterprises. Together these data will offer significant insights into the role of kin relations in shaping circulations and processes in modern political economies in the context of the global agro-food system. Intellectual merit: This project contributes to literatures on family firms, family farms, gender, global agro-food systems and transnational ethnography. In the context of the southeastern US, much of the anthropological literature on contemporary agriculture applies a farmworker lens depicting Mexican migrants as individual workers rather than as cultural groups. Instead, this project focuses on a binational extended family group and their agricultural enterprises and thus, employs a frame which allows for questions concerning their contributions to agro-food systems and the ways in which they creatively link local economic strategies across regional economies across rural North America. By looking at how women and men—as part of a network of kin-based enterprises—mitigate hierarchical relations within their family group and regional rural industries, this study will offer new imaginaries of women, men and farming families as collectivities of contemporary rural enterprise workers, operators and owners. Broader Impact: This project will help destabilize widespread stereotypes about US-Mexico migration and Latinos working in agricultural industries in the US. It will further efforts towards the advancement of public anthropology through community presentations in Guanajuato and North Carolina and publications in journals, blogs and independent news publications in southern Appalachia in Spanish and English. In researching with a binational group with decades of farm labor experience, the study has application implications concerning immigration policy and perishable crop farm labor. It will generate data that may be shared with federal agencies for Spanish language services for farming enterprise owners and for collaborative agricultural production-distribution programs for small to midlevel farming operations across state lines.
Effective start/end date3/15/162/28/18


  • National Science Foundation: $8,467.00


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