Independence and individualism: conflated values in farmer cooperation?
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Social scientists have long examined the changing role of the individual, and the influence of individualism in social and economic arrangements as well as behavioral decisions. With respect to co-operative behavior among farmers, however, the ideology of individualism has been little theorized in terms of its relationship to the longstanding virtue of independence. This paper explores this relationship by combining analysis of historical literature on the agricultural cooperative movement with the accounts of contemporary English farmers. I show that the virtue of independence is deployed to justify a variety of cooperative (formal and informal) and non-cooperative practices and that, despite apparently alternative interpretations, independence is most often conflated with individualistic premises. That conflation, I argue, leads farmers to see their neighbors as natural competitors: as those from whom which independence must be sought. This has the effect of masking the structural dependencies which farmers face (such as lenders and large purchasers) and limits the alternatives available to them to realize a view of independence that is maintained, rather than opposed, by interdependent collective action. Thus perceived, individualism is an ideological doctrine that succeeds by appealing to the virtue of independence, while simultaneously denying its actual realization.