Peasant
Overview
 
A peasant is an agricultural worker who generally tend to be poor and homeless
The word is derived from 15th century French païsant meaning one from the pays, or countryside, ultimately from the Latin pagus, or outlying administrative district.
Peasants typically make up the majority of the agricultural labour-force in a pre-industrial society
Pre-industrial society
Pre-industrial society refers to specific social attributes and forms of political and cultural organization that were prevalent before the advent of the Industrial Revolution. It is followed by the industrial society....

, dependent on the cultivation of their land: without stockpiles of provisions they thrive or starve according to the most recent harvest.
Encyclopedia
A peasant is an agricultural worker who generally tend to be poor and homeless

Etymology

The word is derived from 15th century French païsant meaning one from the pays, or countryside, ultimately from the Latin pagus, or outlying administrative district.

Position in society

Peasants typically make up the majority of the agricultural labour-force in a pre-industrial society
Pre-industrial society
Pre-industrial society refers to specific social attributes and forms of political and cultural organization that were prevalent before the advent of the Industrial Revolution. It is followed by the industrial society....

, dependent on the cultivation of their land: without stockpiles of provisions they thrive or starve according to the most recent harvest. The majority of the people in the Middle Ages were peasants. (Pre-industrial societies have diminished with the advent of industrialization.)

Though "peasant" is a word of loose application, once a market economy
Market economy
A market economy is an economy in which the prices of goods and services are determined in a free price system. This is often contrasted with a state-directed or planned economy. Market economies can range from hypothetically pure laissez-faire variants to an assortment of real-world mixed...

 has taken root the term peasant proprietors is frequently used to describe the traditional rural population in countries where smallholders farm much of the land. It is sometimes used by people who consider themselves of higher class as slang to refer pejoratively to those of poorer education who come from a lower income background.

Social Networks

In many pre-industrial societies
Industrial Revolution
The Industrial Revolution was a period from the 18th to the 19th century where major changes in agriculture, manufacturing, mining, transportation, and technology had a profound effect on the social, economic and cultural conditions of the times...

, peasants composed the bulk of the population. Peasant societies often had well developed social support networks. Especially in harder climate
Climate
Climate encompasses the statistics of temperature, humidity, atmospheric pressure, wind, rainfall, atmospheric particle count and other meteorological elemental measurements in a given region over long periods...

s, members of the community who had a poor harvest
Harvest
Harvest is the process of gathering mature crops from the fields. Reaping is the cutting of grain or pulse for harvest, typically using a scythe, sickle, or reaper...

 or suffered other hardships were taken care of by the rest of the community. Peasants usually only had one set of clothing, two at most. Also, a peasant usually owed their lord 20% of their earnings. They also owed the priest or bishop 10% of their ownings. Of course, knights could, and would usually demand tributes for keeping them alive. Overall, the peasant usually retained only 10-20% of their total work and earnings.

Peasant societies can often have very stratified
Social stratification
In sociology the social stratification is a concept of class, involving the "classification of persons into groups based on shared socio-economic conditions ... a relational set of inequalities with economic, social, political and ideological dimensions."...

 social hierarchies within them. Rural people often have very different values and economic behavior from urbanites, and tend to be more conservative
Social conservatism
Social Conservatism is primarily a political, and usually morally influenced, ideology that focuses on the preservation of what are seen as traditional values. Social conservatism is a form of authoritarianism often associated with the position that the federal government should have a greater role...

. Peasants are often very loyal to inherited power structures that define their rights and privileges and protect them from interlopers, despite their low status within those power structures.

Medieval European peasants

The relative position of peasants in Western Europe
Western Europe
Western Europe is a loose term for the collection of countries in the western most region of the European continents, though this definition is context-dependent and carries cultural and political connotations. One definition describes Western Europe as a geographic entity—the region lying in the...

 improved greatly and the Black Death
Black Death
The Black Death was one of the most devastating pandemics in human history, peaking in Europe between 1348 and 1350. Of several competing theories, the dominant explanation for the Black Death is the plague theory, which attributes the outbreak to the bacterium Yersinia pestis. Thought to have...

 unsettled the demography of medieval Europe.

In the wake of this disruption to the established order, later centuries saw the invention of the printing press, the development of widespread literacy
Literacy
Literacy has traditionally been described as the ability to read for knowledge, write coherently and think critically about printed material.Literacy represents the lifelong, intellectual process of gaining meaning from print...

 and the enormous social and intellectual changes of the Enlightenment
Age of Enlightenment
The Age of Enlightenment was an elite cultural movement of intellectuals in 18th century Europe that sought to mobilize the power of reason in order to reform society and advance knowledge. It promoted intellectual interchange and opposed intolerance and abuses in church and state...

.

This evolution of ideas in an environment of relatively widespread literacy
Literacy
Literacy has traditionally been described as the ability to read for knowledge, write coherently and think critically about printed material.Literacy represents the lifelong, intellectual process of gaining meaning from print...

 laid the groundwork for the Industrial Revolution
Industrial Revolution
The Industrial Revolution was a period from the 18th to the 19th century where major changes in agriculture, manufacturing, mining, transportation, and technology had a profound effect on the social, economic and cultural conditions of the times...

, which enabled mechanically- and chemically-augmented agricultural production while simultaneously increasing the demand for factory workers in cities. Urban factory-workers, with their low skill and large numbers, quickly came to occupy the socio-economic stratum formerly the preserve of the medieval peasants.

This process happened in an especially pronounced and truncated way in Eastern Europe
Eastern Europe
Eastern Europe is the eastern part of Europe. The term has widely disparate geopolitical, geographical, cultural and socioeconomic readings, which makes it highly context-dependent and even volatile, and there are "almost as many definitions of Eastern Europe as there are scholars of the region"...

. Lacking any catalysts for change in the 14th century, Eastern European peasants largely continued upon the original medieval path until the 18th and 19th centuries. Serfdom was abolished in Russia in 1863, allowing the buying and selling of lands traditionally held by peasants, and allowing the landless ex-peasants to move to the cities.

Early modern Germany

In Germany, peasants continued to center their lives in the village well into the 19th century. They belonged to a corporate body and helped to manage the community resources and to monitor community life. In the East they had the status of serfs bound permanently to parcels of land.

In most of Germany, farming was handled by tenant farmers who paid rents and obligatory services to the landlord - typically a nobleman. Peasant leaders supervised the fields and ditches and grazing rights, maintained public order and morals, and supported a village court which handled minor offenses. Inside the family the patriarch made all the decisions, and tried to arrange advantageous marriages for his children. Much of the villages' communal life centered around church services and holy days. In Prussia, the peasants drew lots to choose conscripts required by the army. The noblemen handled external relationships and politics for the villages under their control, and were not typically involved in daily activities or decisions.

19th century France

In his seminal book Peasants Into Frenchmen: The Modernization of Rural France, 1880–1914 (1976), historian Eugen Weber
Eugen Weber
Eugen Joseph Weber was a Romanian-born American historian with a special focus on Western Civilization and the Western Tradition....

 traced the modernization of French villages and argued that rural France went from backward and isolated to modern and possessing a sense of French nationhood during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He emphasized the roles of railroads, republican schools, and universal military conscription. He based his findings on school records, migration patterns, military-service documents and economic trends. Weber argued that until 1900 or so a sense of French nationhood was weak in the provinces. Weber then looked at how the policies of the Third Republic created a sense of French nationality in rural areas. The book was widely praised, but some argued that a sense of Frenchness existed in the provinces before 1870.

Historiography

Since it was the literate classes who left the most records, and these tended to dismiss peasants as figures of coarse appetite and rustic comedy, the term "peasant" may have a pejorative rather than descriptive connotation in historical memory. Society was theorized as being organized into three "estates": those who work, those who pray, and those who fight. The importance of peasants was emphasized by the Annales School
Annales School
The Annales School is a group of historians associated with a style of historiography developed by French historians in the 20th century. It is named after its scholarly journal Annales d'histoire économique et sociale, which remains the main source of scholarship, along with many books and...

 of French historians. Its leader Fernand Braudel
Fernand Braudel
Fernand Braudel was a French historian and a leader of the Annales School. His scholarship focused on three main projects, each representing several decades of intense study: The Mediterranean , Civilization and Capitalism , and the unfinished Identity of France...

 devoted the first volume–called The Structures of Everyday Life–of his major work, Civilization and Capitalism 15th–18th Century to the largely silent and invisible world that existed below the market economy.

Other research in the field of peasant studies was promoted by Florian Znaniecki
Florian Znaniecki
Florian Witold Znaniecki was a Polish sociologist. He taught and wrote in Poland and the United States. He was the 44th President of the American Sociological Association and the founder of academic sociology studies in Poland...

 and Fei Xiaotong
Fei Xiaotong
Fei Xiaotong, or Fei Hsiao-Tung was a pioneering Chinese researcher and professor of sociology and anthropology; he was also noted for his studies in the study of China's ethnic groups as well as a social activist...

, and in the post-1945 studies of the "great tradition" and the "little tradition" in the work of Robert Redfield
Robert Redfield
Robert Redfield was an American anthropologist and ethnolinguist. Redfield graduated from the University of Chicago, eventually with a J.D. from its law school and then a Ph.D. in cultural anthropology, which he began to teach in 1927...

. In the 1960s, anthropologists and historians began to rethink the role of peasant revolt
Peasant revolt
Peasant, Peasants' or Popular is variously paired with Revolt, Uprising and War and may refer to :*Daze Village Uprising 209 BC*Yellow Turban Rebellion 184...

 in world history and in their own disciplines. Peasant revolution was seen as a Third World
Third World
The term Third World arose during the Cold War to define countries that remained non-aligned with either capitalism and NATO , or communism and the Soviet Union...

 response to capitalism and imperialism.

The anthropologist Eric Wolf
Eric Wolf
Eric Robert Wolf was an anthropologist, best known for his studies of peasants, Latin America, and his advocacy of Marxian perspectives within anthropology.-Early life:...

, for instance, drew on the work of earlier scholars in the Marxist tradition such as Daniel Thorner
Daniel Thorner
Daniel Thorner was an American-born economist known for his work on agricultural economics and Indian economic history. He is known for the application of historical and contemporary economic analysis on policy and influenced agricultural policy in India in the 1950s through his association with...

, who saw the rural population as a key element in the transition from feudalism to capitalism. Wolf and a group of scholars criticized both Marx and the field of modernization theorists
Modernization
In the social sciences, modernization or modernisation refers to a model of an evolutionary transition from a 'pre-modern' or 'traditional' to a 'modern' society. The teleology of modernization is described in social evolutionism theories, existing as a template that has been generally followed by...

 for treating peasants as lacking the ability to take action
Agency (sociology)
In the social sciences, agency refers to the capacity of individuals to act independently and to make their own free choices. By contrast, "Structure" refers to the factors of influence that determine or limit an agent and his or her decisions...

. James C. Scott
James C. Scott
James C. Scott is Sterling Professor of Political Science, formerly Eugene Meyer Professor of Political Science and Anthropology at Yale University. He is also the director of the Program in Agrarian Studies. By training, he is a southeast Asianist.- Research topics :James Scott's work focuses...

's field observations in Malaysia convinced him that villagers were active participants in their local politics even though they were forced to use indirect methods. Many of these activist scholars looked back to the Peasant movement
Peasant movement
Peasant movement is a social movement involved with the agricultural policy.Peasants movement have a long history that can be traced to the numerous peasant uprisings that occurred in various regions of the world throughout human history. Early peasant movements were usually the result of stresses...

 in India and to the theories of the revolution in China led by Mao Zedong
Mao Zedong
Mao Zedong, also transliterated as Mao Tse-tung , and commonly referred to as Chairman Mao , was a Chinese Communist revolutionary, guerrilla warfare strategist, Marxist political philosopher, and leader of the Chinese Revolution...

 starting in the 1920s. The anthropologist Myron Cohen, however, asked why the rural population in China were called "peasants" rather than "farmers", a distinction he called political rather than scientific. One important outlet for their scholarly work and theory was the Journal of Peasant Studies
Journal of Peasant Studies
The Journal of Peasant Studies is a peer-reviewed academic journal covering research into the social structures, institutions, actors, and processes of change in the rural areas of the developing world. It was established in 1973 with Terence J...

.

See also

  • Agrarianism
    Agrarianism
    Agrarianism has two common meanings. The first meaning refers to a social philosophy or political philosophy which values rural society as superior to urban society, the independent farmer as superior to the paid worker, and sees farming as a way of life that can shape the ideal social values...

  • Family economy
    Family economy
    Family Economy is used to denote the basic structure of production and consumption by Danny Pearson. In the family economy there were regional variations, which were how different places were different in family economy....

  • Feudalism
    Feudalism
    Feudalism was a set of legal and military customs in medieval Europe that flourished between the 9th and 15th centuries, which, broadly defined, was a system for ordering society around relationships derived from the holding of land in exchange for service or labour.Although derived from the...

  • Folk culture
    Folk culture
    Folk culture refers to the lifestyle of a culture. Historically, handed down through oral tradition, it demonstrates the "old ways" over novelty and relates to a sense of community. Folk culture is quite often imbued with a sense of place...

  • Peasant Party (political movements in various countries)
  • Peasant's revolt
  • Petty nobility
    Petty nobility
    Petty nobility is dated at least back to 13th century and was formed by Nobles/Knights around their strategic interests. The idea was more capable peasants with leader roles in local community that were given tax exemption for taking care of services like for example guard duties of local primitive...

  • Popular revolt in late medieval Europe
    Popular revolt in late medieval Europe
    Popular revolts in late medieval Europe were uprisings and rebellions by peasants in the countryside, or the bourgeois in towns, against nobles, abbots and kings during the upheavals of the 14th through early 16th centuries, part of a larger "Crisis of the Late Middle Ages"...

  • Serfdom
    Serfdom
    Serfdom is the status of peasants under feudalism, specifically relating to Manorialism. It was a condition of bondage or modified slavery which developed primarily during the High Middle Ages in Europe and lasted to the mid-19th century...


Other terms for "peasant"

  • Aloer
    Aloer
    Aloers were independent peasant proprietors of alous in what is now Catalonia, especially during the years between the Carolingian reconquest of the Spanish Marches from the Moors in the late 9th century and the consolidation of feudalism in that region in the 11th century...

  • Campesino
    Campesino
    Campesino may refer to:Peasant in Spanish.The arts* Los Campesinos!, an indie pop band from Cardiff, Wales* Teatro Campesino, a theater group founded by the United Farm WorkersPeople...

  • Churl
    Churl
    A churl , in its earliest Old English meaning, was simply "a man", but the word soon came to mean "a non-servile peasant", still spelt ċeorl, and denoting the lowest rank of freemen...

  • Cotter
    Cotter (farmer)
    See also Canadian band The Cottars.Cotter, cottier or cottar is the Scots term for a peasant farmer formerly in the Scottish highlands. Cotters occupied cottages and cultivated small plots of land...

  • Fellah
    Fellah
    Fellah , also alternatively known as Fallah is a peasant, farmer or agricultural laborer in the Middle East and North Africa...

  • Free tenant
    Free tenant
    Free Tenants, also known as Free Peasants, were peasants in Medieval England who occupied a unique place in the Medieval hierarchy. They were characterised by the low rents they paid to their Manorial Lord as well as being subject to fewer laws and ties than villeins.-Definition:One of the major...

  • Hari
    Hari (Sindh)
    Hari or Haari is a landless peasant, especially in Sindh, Pakistan. The Hari works for the Wadera ....

  • Honbyakushō
    Honbyakusho
    Honbyakushō - Type of peasant in pre-modern Japan. They were the actual owners of farmland in villages, and it fell to them to pay taxes for the village. However, this also made them very active in village government....

  • Kotsias
  • Kulak
    Kulak
    Kulaks were a category of relatively affluent peasants in the later Russian Empire, Soviet Russia, and early Soviet Union...

  • Muzhik
  • Nóngmín
  • Pagesos de remença
    Remença
    Remença was a Catalan mode of serfdom. Those who were serfs under this mode are properlypagesos de remença ; they are often referred to simply as remences .The Rebellion of the Remences or War of the Remences was a popular revolt in late medieval Europe against...

  • Peasant farmer
  • Peon
    Peon
    The words peon and peonage are derived from the Spanish peón . It has a range of meanings but its primary usage is to describe laborers with little control over their employment conditions.-English usage:...

  • Serf
    Serfdom
    Serfdom is the status of peasants under feudalism, specifically relating to Manorialism. It was a condition of bondage or modified slavery which developed primarily during the High Middle Ages in Europe and lasted to the mid-19th century...

  • Smerd
    Smerd
    Smerds were feudal-dependent peasants in Russia and some other Slavic countries. Sources from the 11th and 12th centuries mention smerds’ presence in the Kievan Rus Smerds (sing. smerd; in Russian: pl. смерды, sing. смерд ) were feudal-dependent peasants in Russia and some other Slavic countries....

  • Ṭǎran
    Taran
    - Given name :* Taran, a 7th century king of the Picts* Taran Taran, founder of the Taran Panth religious sect* Taran Adarsh, an Indian film critic* Taran Killam, an American comic actor* Taran Noah Smith, an actor...

  • Tenant farmer
    Tenant farmer
    A tenant farmer is one who resides on and farms land owned by a landlord. Tenant farming is an agricultural production system in which landowners contribute their land and often a measure of operating capital and management; while tenant farmers contribute their labor along with at times varying...

  • Vecin
  • Villein

Recent

  • Akram-Lodhi, A. Haroon, and Cristobal Kay, eds. Peasants and Globalization: Political Economy, Rural Transformation and the Agrarian Question (2009)
  • Barkin, David. "Who Are The Peasants?" Latin American Research Review, 2004, Vol. 39 Issue 3, pp 270–281
  • Brass, Tom. Peasants, Populism and Postmodernism (2000)
  • Brass, Tom, ed. New Farmers' Movements in India (1995)
  • Brass, Tom, ed. Latin American Peasants (2003)
  • Scott, James C. The Moral Economy of the Peasant: Rebellion and Subsistence in Southeast Asia (2008)
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