The family farm and unfree labour relations

Authors: Emily Reid-Musson*, University of Waterloo, Kendra Strauss, Associate Professor, Morgan Labour Studies Program, Simon Fraser University, Ellen MacEachen, Associate Professor, School of Public Health and Health Systems, University of Waterloo
Topics: Economic Geography, Social Geography, Agricultural Geography
Keywords: Family farms, unfree labour, migration, agriculture
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/4/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM
Room: Forum Room, Omni, West
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Migrant farmworkers in Canada and the US are bound by unfree labour relations, though there are variances in the institutional, structural and social forces underlying these conditions of unfree migrant farm labour across jurisdictions. The research is from a study on occupational health law and regulation in the family farm context, using document analysis of farmer and farm association submissions to government in consultations on proposed occupational health laws. Broadly, the paper explores how the ‘family’ (conceptualized as a flexible institution and discourse) contributes to patterns of unfreedom in agriculture. Existing research on agricultural labour has shown how social differences like race, citizenship and gender are used by states and employers to secure and maintain unfree labour relations in this sector. Our research examines how social differences shape the subjectivities of employers, particularly as they connect to intersecting questions of family, religion, whiteness, and settler colonialism. We then discuss how these subjectivities matter to state lawmaking processes, in which particular labour relations in the farm sector are consolidated and maintained.

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