Pastoralists and peasants: perspectives on agrarian change

Journal Article
  • Published 27/09/20

Journal of Peasant Studies 48:1

For many years, studies of peasants and pastoralists have run in parallel, creating mutual blind-spots. This article argues that, despite contrasting research traditions and conceptual framings, there are many commonalities. The classic problematics of agrarian studies – around production, accumulation and politics – apply as much to pastoralists as they do to peasants. Processes of social differentiation and class formation, the role of wage labour and questions around mobilisation and politics are consistently relevant. However, a reflection on a large literature on pastoralism across nine world regions reveals that there are nevertheless some important contrasts with classic representations of a settled peasantry. These are: living with and off uncertainty; mobility to respond to variability; flexible land control and new forms of tenure; dynamic social formations; collective social relations for a new moral economy; engaging with complex markets and a new politics for a transforming world. The article concludes by arguing that, under contemporary conditions, these are all important for understanding settled agrarian systems too, as today pastoralists and peasants face many of the same challenges. These seven themes, the article argues, offer a new set of lenses for examining pastoral and peasant settings alike, helping to expand perspectives in agrarian studies.

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