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keywords: health conjuncture approach, farming stress, social suffering, moral economy, Slovenia


Farming in Slovenia has been dramatically changed since the proclamation of independence from socialist Yugoslavia in 1991. In 2004, when Slovenia joined the EU and the CAP, the farmer-entrepreneur became a role-model of multifunctional developmental orientation and gradually, after the 2008 global food crisis, the developmental vision was defined towards sustainable agriculture. Yet the newly defined ‘moral economy’ expected from farmers to follow conflicting imperatives of pursuing both constant economic growth and practicing environmental and social sustainability propagated through the ‘normative person’, who should be simultaneously a productive, efficient, innovative and competitive but also a collaborative, just, healthy and satisfied farmer-entrepreneur.

However, health evidence in Slovenia and worldwide conveys that in the last two decades, farmers have belonged to the most hazardous occupational group in terms of work-related health. Scholars explain such evidence in line with their respective epistemologies; however, statistically informed explanations of the phenomenon still prevail in designing health-related policies. Since the 1990s, however, critical medical anthropologists have addressed global inequalities that might impact health. Studying individual suffering thus becomes inseparable from studying social suffering to better understand how large-scale social forces come to be translated into personal distress and disease. However, the issue of how this ‘translation’ occurs among contemporary farmers remains under-researched.

The objective of this paper is to suggest a systematic approach to understanding how historically and economically driven agricultural change comes to be translated into farmers’ work-related distress and suffering. In so doing, this approach draws on methodologies which examine both the contingent social dynamics and farmers’ agency that underlie the statistical regularities. The theoretical framework follows a theorization of ‘moral economy’ to provide a framework for examining ways in which the observed farming economy intersects with ‘moral economy’ that has implications for farmers’ wellbeing, and the intellectual tradition of critical medical anthropologists, who consider social suffering to be a response to a drastically changed situation in one’s life. In order to move beyond ‘methodological individualism’ of health statistics, an anthropological health conjuncture approach is suggested to refer only to certain elements of socially structured and temporarily situated contexts, which are relevant for farmers’ experience of stress and farming-related health outcomes. Employing such an analytical perspective, it is expected that one may observe ‘the translation’ of various social pressures brought by changing agricultural developmental imperatives and farmers’ perceptions of conflicting moral economies into their suffering and illness.

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