Studying social change through return visits: an Embu restudy
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This paper outlines research aims and some preliminary findings from a 1994 restudy of social change in rural Embu District. The new project updates the author's early 1980s field research, in rural Kenya, and aims at collecting quantitative and ethnographic data that will allow comparisons with earlier cross-sectional data from an intensive study of farmers in the highlands of Embu D1striof. The paper discusses analytical and methodological problems of studying agrarian social change. Persistent challenges include those of capturing the strengths of both interpretive and more positivistic or empirical approaches (e.g exploring cultural constructions of economic "inequality as well as positivistic 'measures' of it); exploring the intertplay of structural constraints and individual action (the structure/agency problem); distinguishing recurrent from linear processes of change (cf. Chayanov 1966), and separating structural change from fleeting variati ons i n practi se. Substantive themes to be investigated in the 1994 field study include changes in farmers' economic strategies, wealth, and land tenure arrangements (especially in response to growing land scarcity). The central questions of the restudy are as follows: What processes of agrarian social differentiation are observable through longitudinal study rather than cross-sectional analysis? What are the principal influences on rural household wealth differences today? How do exchange relations between individuals ~n town and countryside shape rural differentiation processes? How do Embu people themselves construe changes in their material well-being (e.g as life-cycle effects, misfortune or good luck, or the outcome of hard work, laziness, or poor judgment)? Preliminary findings from the 1994 restudy suggest that well over half of the original study households believe (for reasons discussed in the paper) that their material circumstances have improved since 1980./S1. The study also addresses economic mobility across generations. Economic changes in the research area include a sharp increase in coffee cultivation in the former cotton zone, increased macadamia nut and dairy production in the middle coffee zone, a possible quintupling of the number of stone houses, and a higher incidence of land rental.