Loughborough University
Thesis-2008-Glover.pdf (12.26 MB)

Why do dairy farmers continue to farm? Can Bourdieu's theory aid our understanding and suggest how farmers could regain some control in their industry?

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posted on 2015-02-26, 13:36 authored by Jane Glover
The research asked the pivotal question - Why do dairy farmers continue to farm? There is currently a lack of recognition for the social, cultural and symbolic merits of family businesses, and the non-economic contributions made to society. In critically reviewing the economic paradigm, which assumes man acts rationally in a world of perfect information, economic theory ignores the role of alternative forms of capital in acquiring power to conduct business successfully. Using Bourdieu's concepts of field, habitus and capital offered sociological insights into small family farm businesses. Bourdieu's generic forms of capital allowed for the appraisal of not only economic capital; but social, cultural and symbolic capital. A qualitative, mixed methods approach was chosen, through a series of ten ethnographic case studies conducted in Staffordshire. Bourdieu's work and qualitative methods allowed the farm to be investigated as a collective social unit. Each case study consisted of participant observation, interviews with the farmer, and where possible spouses and children. The work demonstrates that whilst policy tries to shape how agriculture is conducted, it is not necessarily creating an environment in which farmers can empower themselves, and their business operations; as powerful groups seek to retain their position in the field (dairy industry). Sufficient levels of social, cultural and symbolic capital are vital for family farm business success; defined in economic (wealth) and non-economic (personal development, job satisfaction and lifestyle) parameters. For the farming world, the work extends Bourdieu's theory proposing the need to introduce natural capital. Nature's role in farming is critical and farmers need to utilise and support natural systems. Despite farmers losing control in their field, many have behaved in enterprising ways in order to continue the family farm business. However, farmers need to increase their levels of all forms of capital in order to increase their power and position in society. Consequently, farmers must also protect their levels of capital in order to slow down further decreases in their power in the field.



  • Business and Economics


  • Business


© Jane L. Glover

Publisher statement

This work is made available according to the conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) licence. Full details of this licence are available at: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/

Publication date



A Doctoral Thesis. Submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the award of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University.


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