One of the most profound changes in the United States in the past century is the national abandonment of farming as a livelihood strategy. This change is evident both in the exodus of Americans from farming and in the conditions faced by the farmers remaining, most of whom are marginal producers in an increasingly concentrated industry. In this article, we provide a retrospective account of the empirical and sociological fate of family farmers. While sociologists have had longstanding interest in agrarian change, research on contemporary farmers is largely confined to speciality publications, with a loss to the discipline at large. We examine three distinct research traditions that continue to document farm transformation: research on macro-level transformation, community impacts, and household response. While these traditions evolved separately, we describe how they overlap and inform each other. Most notably, research on household and community responses delineates meso- and micro-level institutional factors that extend macro-level theory. Research on the contemporary farm population offers an alternative context in which to interrogate conventional accounts of economic development; such research yields insights about aspects of social life being rediscovered as part of the new economy and continues to pull sociologists into politically charged public policy debates.


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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