The Life of Property

The Life of Property: House, Family and Inheritance in Bearn, South-West France

Timothy Jenkins
Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: NED - New edition, 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 208
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt9qdgmx
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Life of Property
    Book Description:

    In Bearn, a region of south-west France, longstanding and resilient ideas of property and practices of inheritance control the destinies of those living in the foothills of the Pyrenees. Based on extensive fieldwork and archival research that combines ethnography and intellectual history, this study explores the long-term continuities of this particular way of life within a broad framework. These local ideas have found expression twice at the national level. First, sociological arguments about the family, proposed by Frederic Le Play, shaped debates on social reform and the repair of national identity during the last third of the nineteenth century - and these debates would subsequently influence contemporary European thought and social policy. Second, these local ideas entered into late twentieth-century sociological categories through the influential work of Pierre Bourdieu. Through these examples and others, the author illustrates the multi-layered life of these local concepts and practices and the continuing contribution of the local to modern European national history.

    eISBN: 978-1-84545-823-2
    Subjects: Anthropology, History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. PREFACE AND ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-6)

    This book reflects a prime concern in contemporary social anthropology, as well as perhaps the major interest of the discipline to a wider audience, which is that the study of small-scale ethnographic practices can cast light upon larger-scale political and historical phenomena. This is true not only in the areas social anthropology has traditionally concerned itself with but also in contemporary Western Europe, where such a demonstration is perhaps more startling; here, too, knowledge of the detail of local, even domestic, forms of life from a specific region illuminates features of national debate and policy, raising the important issue of...

  5. Chapter 1 THE DISCOVERY OF THE PYRENEAN FAMILY
    (pp. 7-26)

    Béarn is a former province in the south-west of France, lying between the crest of the Pyrenees to the south and the flat Landes region to the north, with the French Basque Country to the west, and the former county of Bigorre to the east. It consists of a mountainous part to the south; the mountains are cut by rivers orgaves(the local term) into four valleys, descending to form fertile plains in the north; and between these two parts the foothills lie. Since the Revolution, Béarn together with the Basque Country make up the Département des Pyrénées Atlantiques,...

  6. Chapter 2 CONTINUITY OVER TIME: PATTERNS OF LAND INHERITANCE
    (pp. 27-45)

    Le Play, in discovering the Pyrenean family, placed continuity in tradition and custom, which he opposed to the law (and, more particularly, to the efforts of lawyers), and traced back to a time immemorial, for he invoked a Basque substrate. As Ourliac points out,¹ Le Play shows no sign of having studied the localcoutumiers, or bodies of local law, for example those of Barèges or Lavedan or, indeed, of Béarn: as a result, his notion of custom is rather vague. At the time he wrote, editions of all three had been published,² although, in the case of theFors...

  7. Chapter 3 THE CONTEMPORARY BÉARNAIS FARMING FAMILY
    (pp. 46-74)

    I want in this chapter to give a description of the key features of life in contemporary rural Béarn, paying attention (as always) to questions of continuity and transition.¹ I have worked in the west of Béarn, about fifty kilometres north of the Pyrenees, in the region known asentre deux gaves(‘between the two rivers’), in villages on the river plain and on farms in the foothills, the fertile slopes rising to a height of 200 metres above sea-level. The peasants live on isolated farms that are scattered along country roads or gathered in hamlets around a church. As...

  8. Chapter 4 LOCAL POLITICS AND LAND USE
    (pp. 75-95)

    My aim in the previous two chapters has been to establish in the first place the longevity and in the second place the present form of what has been loosely called ‘the Pyrenean family’, or, more precisely, ‘the house’. I have suggested its form serves as a mechanism that both generates and accommodates change, and so persists, at the same time casting an interesting light upon the claims of modernity. And in the conclusion to the last chapter I attempted to indicate how, and in what respects, this complex identity or value survives any particular material instantiation, and how it...

  9. Chapter 5 MARRIAGE, INHERITANCE AND SOCIAL CHANGE IN A GASCON NOVEL: SIMIN PALAY’S LOS TRES GOJATS DE BÒRDAVIELHA
    (pp. 96-128)

    Simin Palay’s novelLos tres gojats de Bòrdavielha(‘The three young men of the Old Farm’) was published in 1934.¹ The account is written in Béarnais Gascon throughout,² and is the first novel to be written in the language. Its writing belongs to a period of intensive effort on the part of Palay (1874–1965) and the poet Miquèu Camelat (1871–1962)³ to produce means to serve the revival of the local language. In 1909, Palay and Camelat distanced themselves from the journalReclams(‘Echoes’), produced by the regionalist Félibrige organization L’Escole Gastoû Febus (EGF), on the grounds of the...

  10. Chapter 6 BOURDIEU’S BÉARNAIS ETHNOGRAPHY
    (pp. 129-158)

    The purpose of this chapter is to demonstrate through a close reading the contribution of indigenous Béarnais categories to shaping the thinking of a contemporary sociologist. We began with an earlier instance, Le Play’s encounter with Pyrenean forms of social life, which led to a further exploration of these forms through archival and ethnographic materials; in the previous chapter, the active component in these categories emerged particularly clearly from consideration of Palay’s novel. Just as the notarial documents outlined in chapter 3 indicate the continuation of these longstanding forms in the present so, in another, more abstract, plane, Bourdieu’s work...

  11. Chapter 7 THE LIFE OF PROPERTY
    (pp. 159-164)

    When investigating a rural society in Western Europe, the overwhelming temptation is to suppose it to be on the point of extinction. The investigator imagines himself to be the witness to a way of life that is undergoing such radical change, as modern, urban, metropolitan values impinge, that he will be the last visitor to find it. On my first visit to Béarn in 1977 I saw a man ploughing with a single ox, a sight I have not seen repeated in thirty years. Yet on further acquaintance it becomes clear that there are continuities, resources in the local society...

  12. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 165-174)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 175-182)