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  • Familles, terre, marchés: Logiques économiques et stratégies dans les milieux ruraux (XVIIe-XXe siècles)
  • Jean-Philippe Garneau and Donald Fyson
Familles, terre, marchés: Logiques économiques et stratégies dans les milieux ruraux (XVIIe-XXe siècles). Edited by Gérard Béaur, Christian Dessureault, and Joseph Goy. Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2004. Pp. 284, ff18

Familles, terre, marchés presents nineteen essays that explore the relationship between families and markets in rural society from the seventeenth [End Page 151] century forwards. It is the product of a conference held in Paris in 2002, the second of three meetings among French, Canadian, and Swiss scholars devoted to the transformation of the rural family and the peasant economy, and must be read in conjunction with the papers from the other conferences (the first published in 2003 and the third forthcoming). In the introduction, the editors suggest that the family is a 'major actor in the transformation of societies,' thus departing radically from the Chayanov model and its opposition of dynamic markets and immutable and inward-looking peasant households. Mobility, family strategies, and the logic of economic actors are notions frequently used in the collection, within a wide range of issues, problems, and historical landscapes.

The book is divided into five parts, whose composition seems largely dictated by convenience. For instance, three disparate essays are grouped under the broad heading 'Exploitations familiales et conditions économiques': Christian Dessureault's examination of the relationships among life cycle, family structure, and farm productivity; Béatrice Craig's study of the impact of general stores on consumption habits in rural areas; and Jacques Rémy's narration of the long-term evolution of a community of stockbreeders and the challenges it faced in managing access to collective property. Rather than following the book's internal divisions, its broad scope is best addressed by concentrating on a few key themes – inheritance practices, family behaviour, markets, and migration patterns.

Inheritance practices are at the heart of several contributions. Thus, Nadine Vivier and Bernard Derouet use national surveys to chart variations in French inheritance practices, a return to a now less frequently used methodology that nonetheless yields surprising findings, notably that in some regions, the famille-souche (stem family), praised by Frederic Le Play and others, was not the creation of a distant past but rather an innovation of the second half of the nineteenth century. In contrast, Marie-Pierre Arrizabalaga's work on Basque families in the nineteenth century shows strong continuity in local customs of primogeniture, despite legal changes requiring equal division among heirs.

Several scholars concentrate on family behaviour, including Sylvie Perrier, Jean-Paul Desaive Rolande Bonnain-Dulon, and Antoinette Fauve-Chamoux. For example, Fauve-Chamoux addresses the largely unexplored theme of household authority and its transmission. Concentrating on a French Pyrenean community, she argues convincingly that the stem family was fragile when faced with deep demographic changes and thus nuances the 'nuclear hardship hypothesis' of scholars such as Peter Laslett; her notion of a marché des responsabilités is particularly attractive. [End Page 152]

A pervasive concern throughout the book is the influence of the market economy on the peasantry. Hence, the land market is explored in several papers, including that of Jean Lafleur, Gilles Paquet, and Jean-Pierre Wallot: They undertake a thorough survey of real estate transactions in two seigneuries in the Montreal area and assert that market fluctuations confirm their long-held hypothesis of the enrichment of the Canadien peasantry at the beginning of the nineteenth century. However, the different aspects of the market economy are unevenly addressed in the book. Only one author, Lorenzo Lorenzetti, directly addresses the important issue of credit in rural society. Likewise, only two essays (both on New France) focus more closely on the rural labour market: Sylvie Dépatie asserts that farm size explains the (limited) presence of wage labour in Montreal parishes, thereby clarifying Allan Greer's previous interpretation, whereas Thomas Wien looks at the pattern of engagement for the Pays d'en Haut to demonstrate the fragile equilibrium between the needs of the fur trade and the imperatives of agriculture in the Montreal area...


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