This is a study of country shopkeepers in Norra Klarälvsdalen, Värmland, in the early 1990s. The aim of the thesis is to examine how the work of the country shopkeepers is constituted in a field of competing ideas about retail trade. The interest is focused on how the work done by country shopkeepers takes shape and acquires its character in existing circumstances, and also on the extent to which the country shopkeepers themselves are able to shape the circumstances in which they work. The material for the study was collected between 1990 and 1997. The core consists of a field study in Klarälvsdalen, where I did participant work in eight shops. This is supplemented with material from a dozen different periodicals in the trade press from 1991 to 1993, and local newspapers from the same period.
In this study I have worked with two overall categories as regards specifying the social circumstances on which the work of the country shopkeepers was based. On the one hand there is the local market, with a clientele with certain wishes and a way of life rooted in the countryside. On the other hand there are the large distribution chains, their range and their ideals of healthy trade. Through their work, the country shopkeepers found themselves mediating between these two domains.
Retail trade is provincial in character, and the assessments by which the country shopkeepers perceived the local market had developed as a result of the shopkeepers having lived with and being a part of the local circumstances. The shopkeepers were not passive in relation to their market; instead they were involved in creating their own conditions. With occasional exceptions, they were part of organized retail trade. The distribution chain gave a social affiliation, and the shopkeepers were offered not only goods but also information and know-how in the form of courses and ample printed matter.
Organized retail trade furthered healthy trade and competition on equal terms. The engagement comprised both a cultural and an organizational order. The work took place both through public debates and through everyday distinctions, with pleasant shops and correct behaviour being encouraged. For organized trade it was a matter of separating unhealthy trade from healthy trade in the interest of the consumer.
In the day-to-day exercise of their profession, the shopkeepers gave a face to the desired qualities that characterize healthy trade. They were close to their employees, their customers, and their shop. It was difficult, however, to run a shop in the countryside, so certain public subsidies were available. This undermined the competition on equal terms that the organized retail trade aspired to. From their point of view, the country shop thus represented healthy trade on unhealthy terms.
The country shopkeepers' experience of the local context took shape in a habitus in which one important distinctive feature was a feeling and concern for the preferences and wishes of the customers. The shopkeepers tried to satisfy these, but they did so within the limits of their perception of healthy and proper trade. In this respect the country shopkeeper was not just the intermediary through which goods were channelled, but also a link joining the local market to the value system of retail trade.
Stockholm: Stockholms universitets förlag, 1999.