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«Juanwen Yuan Thesis committee Thesis supervisor Prof. dr. A. Niehof Professor of Sociology of Consumers and Households Wageningen University Thesis ...»

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the purpose of collecting in-depth and holistic data, using cohort and migration as selection criteria. The validity and applicability of the case study approach is long established in anthropology, sociology, and history, as well as in other fields of study. Case studies go beyond reporting events and details of experiences. Specifically, the researcher attempts to explain how these represent what we might call "webs of meaning", the cultural constructions in which we live (Geertz, 1973). As Kessinger (1972: 314, 315) notes, “The findings of case studies are significant for historians and social scientists on at least two levels: (1) They form an important source of information, insights, and conclusions that can be used in more general studies; and (2) the unit of study provides a “laboratory” within which one can study representative historical processes which affect all such units in a given place to one degree or another […]. Stein (1960) […] argues convincingly that the concern for the case study’s representativeness has been largely misplaced. The crucial consideration is the representativeness of the process of change, not of the unit of study”.

The interviewees included both men and women. Sometimes, I interviewed only one person, both husband and wife. I found it difficult to find young husbands to interview. The stories of all households will be included in the following chapters. When I did the case study, I talked with the interviewees in public places, in the fields or in their houses. Sometimes, I joined two people chatting and did two case studies. Apart from the life history interviews, I also stayed for a short period in three different houses: one household of the 1980s cohort, one household of the 1990s cohort, and one household of the 2000s cohort. I observed and discussed their livelihood activities, child care, daily life, migration, and gender issues, both in their daily life and in different life stages. I listened to their stories about the life experiences that had impressed them most. The main characteristics of these households can be found in Table 5.5; the interview outlines of the case studies in Annex 3.

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5.4 Data analysis Both the quantitative and the qualitative data analyses are used in this research to optimize reliability and validity. A preliminary quantitative data analysis was done first to get the general picture of the research data and the current situation of the survey households. This provided the basis for the qualitative approaches and the further in-depth analysis. Chapter 7, in particular, is mostly based on the quantitative data analysis; the other chapters are mostly based on the qualitative data analysis.

For the quantitative analysis, I used SPSS 15.0 software (SPSS-IBM company) to carry out the regression and correlation analysis, the cross tabulations, and the analysis of variance. Household formation year and gender constitute important independent variables in most of the quantitative analysis. I took pictures of all the

76 Chapter 5

questionnaires to make it easy for me to go back and check unclear data when I ran the analyses, which was really helpful. It was also useful because, in this way, I kept the notes the enumerators had put on the questionnaires. While in the field, qualitative data collection and analysis were overlapping and recurrent. Data analysis was done in a continuous and systematic way. I took field notes and stored them in my laptop almost everyday. I tried to code them roughly in the field, to check for missing data. The focus group discussions were recorded by using my cellphone and I always listened to the recording immediately after the discussion before I processing them and conducting another discussion. I always found some points that needed to more attention in the next focus group discussion. I preliminarily coded and analyzed the qualitative data by using my laptop. For case studies I took notes and did the preliminarily analysis in the field. The life histories required more than one visit each. I structured the questioning chronologically according to life course stage. Sometimes, I took written notes in the field, sometimes I directly wrote them into my laptop. I analyzed the secondary data I had before starting the field work. Most coding was preliminarily done in the field to guide the collection of in-depth data. Later, I recoded some data in the further data analysis process.

5.5 Issues in the research process Hospitality The villagers are very hospitable. I was always invited to stay and have meals with them. In order to gain a better understanding of the different households and have

in-depth discussions about their life histories, I chose seven households to stay in:

one household of the 1970s cohort, four households of the 1980s cohort, one household of the 1990s cohort, and one household of the 2000s cohort. I also had meals in many other households, and tried to talk freely with them during meals and work. I found this was an important way to get to know people’s daily lives and their personal stories.

When I wanted to start with the survey, the Spring Festival was approaching and almost every household was happy to slaughter a pig to celebrate it. When we did the survey, we were invited to join the people in special meals, prepared from the slaughtered animals (shazhufan) with them. Each household invites relatives and friends to come to slaughter the pig and eat that special meal together, and the researcher and enumerators were invited as well. Because the survey lasted longer than expected, we were unable to conduct interviews at the time the people were having the shazhufan meals. Interviewing had to be done during the meal or the meal preparation.





When I conducted interviews, these always gave rise to informal group discussions. When the villagers came and saw that I was doing interviews, they liked to join the discussion. This provided an opportunity to discuss various issues, but it was difficult to raise more personal issues at such occasions.

Keeping an open mind Because I had worked in the area before, I considered the disadvantages of

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knowing the two main research villages quite well. My familiarity brought with it the risks of prejudice, taking matters for granted, or overlooking important emergent phenomena. Therefore, I did not presume to have all the answers during the fieldwork; I tried to observe and ask questions very carefully, and to keep an open mind.

Pre-coded categories in the questionnaire I met some problems when composing the questionnaire. I pre-coded categories codes based on the experience in the villages of Dabuyang and Dongkou, where I carried out the pilot of the survey. However, in the other villages, some categories were different, e.g. with regard to crops, employment, livestock, and so on. For this reason, the enumerators met problems in the survey process in the other villages, which they solved by using the category of “other”, without further specification.

Because the specific content of these categories was important, in a number of cases, I had to ask the enumerators or I had to go back to the village myself to check it.

Electricity shortage During the survey period, I planned to run a daily check in the field on the returned questionnaires for any incompleteness or mistakes. However, there was a period of severe frost (people could not recall it had been that cold for fifty years).

The frost affected the electricity supply and led to power failure. There was no light in the evenings and I could only do the checking of the questionnaires during the daytime. Yet, I also had to go with the enumerators to coordinate their work in the village, because the Spring Festival was approaching and the villagers were very busy. I had not foreseen that checking unclear data with the enumerators and the villagers would be so time-consuming. It is very important for the researcher to check questionnaire data in the field and ask the enumerators to get clear answers for every question.

Keeping the research on track Some interviewees and participants in focus groups talked a lot; I could not coax them back to my topic and was forced to follow their memory flow. It was not easy to balance the open questions and the semi-structured questions. Time constraints were a problem. Conducting life histories is very time-consuming and one interview was not sufficient to get the whole story. The focus group discussions lasted longer than expected because there was a lot to discuss. Sometimes, participants diverted from the topic and I had to steer their conversation back to the focus of my research. I did the survey in January, when the Spring Festival was approaching. Since many migrants came back to celebrate this festival, I had time to talk with them and carry out an additional survey (see above). It was difficult, however, to conduct this survey at a time when many villagers were busy either preparing a trip to visit relatives and friends, or organizing the reception of relatives and friends in their own homes.

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This chapter starts with a discussion on the relationship between cohort and life stage. By following the stages in the life course of different cohorts, I will be able to show how women of different cohorts experienced the different phases in their household’s life course in different times. In the next section, I will look more closely at marriage and household formation in the study area, now and in the past. Subsequently, the topic of female-headed households will be discussed, because there are relatively many of them in the study area and the incidence of female headship of households seems to be increasing. Labour migration plays an important role in this trend. The core of the chapter is formed by the presentation of the life histories of eight women, based on extensive interviews with the women concerned. The chapter concludes with a general discussion of the impact of social change on women’s lives, on the basis of the findings presented here.

6.1 The relationship between cohort and life stage As discussed in Chapter 5, there are four cohorts and four life course stages considered in this research. The household’s life course starts at the formation of the household and ends with the founders’ exit (Pennartz and Niehof, 1999:177).

Three kinds of categorization of households can be distinguished when applying a life course perspective: household categories depending on marriage year;

household categories according to household formation year; and categories according to the phase in the life course. In rural China, the newly married couple at first usually lives with the husband’s parents. They establish their own independent household after the birth of the first baby, usually one or two years after marriage. After the birth of the first child, the household start its life stage 1.

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The dates of the marriage, the foundation of an independent household, and the phase in the life course do not necessarily coincide. Hence, the numbers are different (see Table 6.1). As discussed in Chapter 4, Buyi women follow the tradition of zuojia, which requires a woman to stay in her parental house after she gets married, usually for two to five years. The zuojia tradition is still adhered to

79Women’s life stories and social change

until now, but women now stay at home for a shorter period, or even go back to their natal household for only one day. Another reason for the non-coincidence is that some households establish their independent status only after their children are several years old. In that case, a household could have had the first child during the 1970s, but established itself independently in the 1980s. In this research, the households in the sample are from different cohorts and are in different stages of the life course. Households based on formation year that belong to the 2000s cohort, 1990s cohort and 1980s cohort coincide with, respectively, stages 1, 2 and 3 in the life course. The majority of the households based on formation year of the 1970s cohort, on the other hand, are not in stage four, but in stage three of the life course. In this research, the analysis is based on household formation year because household formation is a key variable in the study. Furthermore, in this categorization the numbers are more balanced, which allows for a more powerful analysis. For the focus group discussions, the selection of the participants was also based on the year of household formation.

6.2 Marriage and household formation Traditionally, marriage used to be arranged. A matchmaker (usually a woman) negotiated between the two families. After both sides agreed, there was an engagement. Husband and wife would usually meet once or a few times prior to the wedding. As a rule, the matchmaker introduced the relatives, friends or nearby villagers whom the family already knew very well. After the introduction of the Household Responsibility System (HRS), young people began to get acquainted through different activities and opportunities, which is why arranged marriage is decreasing. The matchmaker, however, is still required for the preparation of the marriage. She is asked to go through the traditional engagement process, which means that she talks to both sides and facilitates a successful engagement. In our sample, during the past ten years, there has been no arranged marriage.

The new couple normally lives with the husband’s parents. The household property is divided among the sons. Household division usually takes place after the birth of the first child (see Chapter 4). If there is no son, it is customary that the eldest daughter marries a husband who would like to live with the wife’s parents.

He is a shangmenlvxu. In the past, such a man was looked down upon by the villagers. In this case, the wife is the household head. There are several kinds of female-headed households in the study area, beside the shangmenlvxu case. The following section will describe female-headed households.



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