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Troubled Fields

Troubled Fields: Men, Emotions, and the Crisis in American Farming

Eric Ramírez-Ferrero
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    Troubled Fields
    Book Description:

    In Oklahoma in the 1980s and 1990s, suicide -- not accident as previously assumed -- was the leading cause of agricultural fatalities among farmers. Men were five times more likely to die by suicide than by accident. What was causing these men -- but not women -- to want to kill themselves? Ramírez-Ferrero suggests that the root causes lie not in purely economic or personal factors but rather in the processes of modernization. He shows how cultural and social changes have a dramatic effect on men's identities as providers, stewards, and community members. Using emotions and gender as modes of analysis, he locates these men's stories in the wider context of American history, agricultural economics and politics, capitalism, and Christianity.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-50363-1
    Subjects: Anthropology, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. INTRODUCTION. Homework
    (pp. 1-6)

    My boss and I had visited the state Department of Agriculture in Oklahoma City to survey data about the health of farming communities in northwestern Oklahoma. It was 1991 and our agency had recently contracted with the Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension Service to assess and address the mental health needs of rural residents in light of the ongoing financial crisis in family farming.

    We met with Rick,¹ a man in his early thirties, who was a data specialist in the department. Our conversation was jovial and he was clearly eager to support our efforts. He shared several useful reports...

  5. ONE The Invitation to Die
    (pp. 7-33)

    While I was away at college in Vermont, I first became aware of the economic crisis affecting American family farmers through the media. During the early eighties, stories were emerging, mostly from the plains states, about the numerous foreclosures on farms, the displacement of families, and the psychological effects of the loss of land on farmers—land that had often been in families for generations. This latter aspect of the crisis seemed to garner the most attention: newspaper articles, television news coverage, and even feature films focused on the growing problem of suicide among financially burdened farm families.¹

    As a...

  6. TWO The Nelsons
    (pp. 34-57)

    I remember driving north. I had finished work for the day. I had just enough time to run home, change, gather my notes and tape recorder, and jump back into the car for the one and a half hour drive. I was hoping to arrive at the Nelsons’ home by 7:00 p.m. for what would be our third and final interview session.

    It was late spring. I know this because my interview transcript is so marked, but also because I remember the fields; the stalks of wheat were tall, turning from deep green to golden straw. They were reflecting the...

  7. THREE Creating Oklahoma: Positioning Farm Men for Crisis
    (pp. 58-100)

    The beckers, both in their late fifties, were unusual in my sample of informants in that they did not own their own land. Rather, Mr. Becker was the manager of the extensive land holdings of a wealthy family that lived in the city. If anything, this structural position lent their perspective a degree of disinterestedness.

    I always enjoyed visiting with them in their home. One evening, after dinner, we had the following conversation regarding the emotion of pride and its shadow, shame. We were discussing farmers and the diverse strategies they use to conceal their financial troubles from the community...

  8. FOUR The Good Farmer: Gender and Occupational Role Evaluation
    (pp. 101-121)

    Mr. melrose and I were riding around in his pickup feeding hay to his cattle which graze on several different farms he owns. On the way back to his homeplace, he came to a slow stop, rolled down his window, and examined his neighbor’s property. He shook his head in disgust and drove on.

    I asked him what he saw. He answered that the farmer was still using the same old rickety machinery that he had been using for fifteen years.

    “Is that bad?” I asked.

    He answered, “A farmer has got to keep up to get ahead. Him? He’s...

  9. FIVE The American Agriculture Movement and the Call to Farm
    (pp. 122-167)

    I first met Ann Ross through my work with Rural Health Projects when we were both serving on a committee on rural youth development. During the course of our work and over a period of several months, we developed a warm friendship. One day I happened to mention to her that I had started work on a research project concerning the farm crisis in northwestern Oklahoma. At that time I was not aware of her involvement in the American Agriculture Movement, nor had I even heard of the organization. I consider this historical accident of our conversation fortuitous; not only...

  10. CONCLUSION. Modernity, Emotions, and Social Change
    (pp. 168-178)

    Sloan (1996) addresses the impact that modernity and the capitalist industrialization and bureaucratization that has accompanied it has had on the psyche. Employing Habermas’s notions of the “lifeworld” (the collective cultural knowledge that serves symbolic functions) and “system” (knowledge and activities that relate to the material reproduction of a society), Sloan explains that with capitalist expansion, cognitive-instrumental rationalities (the system) increasingly extend themselves into the spheres of the lifeworld so as to ensure efficient social administration and successful market operations. These instrumental technologies disrupt traditional and symbolic communicative activities. As a result, there is a growing chasm between individuals and...

  11. APPENDIX. Wide, Open Spaces (1993)
    (pp. 179-194)
  12. NOTES
    (pp. 195-202)
    (pp. 203-210)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 211-222)