Mintz_A Note on the Definition of Peasant

This article was downloaded by: [] On: 14 April 2014, At: 15:47 Publisher: Routledge Informa Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registered office: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK The Journal of Peasant Studies Publication details, including instructions for authors and subscription information: A note on the definition of peasantries Sidney W. Mintz a a Professor of Anthropology , Yale Un
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  This article was downloaded by: []On: 14 April 2014, At: 15:47Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number:1072954 Registered office: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street,London W1T 3JH, UK The Journal of PeasantStudies Publication details, including instructions forauthors and subscription information: A note on the definition of peasantries Sidney W. Mintz aa  Professor of Anthropology , Yale University ,Published online: 05 Feb 2008. To cite this article:  Sidney W. Mintz (1973) A note on the definition of peasantries,The Journal of Peasant Studies, 1:1, 91-106 To link to this article: PLEASE SCROLL DOWN FOR ARTICLETaylor & Francis makes every effort to ensure the accuracy of allthe information (the “Content”) contained in the publications on ourplatform. However, Taylor & Francis, our agents, and our licensorsmake no representations or warranties whatsoever as to the accuracy,completeness, or suitability for any purpose of the Content. Any opinionsand views expressed in this publication are the opinions and views of the authors, and are not the views of or endorsed by Taylor & Francis.The accuracy of the Content should not be relied upon and should beindependently verified with primary sources of information. Taylor andFrancis shall not be liable for any losses, actions, claims, proceedings,demands, costs, expenses, damages, and other liabilities whatsoeveror howsoever caused arising directly or indirectly in connection with, inrelation to or arising out of the use of the Content.This article may be used for research, teaching, and private studypurposes. Any substantial or systematic reproduction, redistribution,reselling, loan, sub-licensing, systematic supply, or distribution in anyform to anyone is expressly forbidden. Terms & Conditions of access  and use can be found at    D  o  w  n   l  o  a   d  e   d   b  y   [   2   0   0 .   1   2   9 .   1   8   7 .   5   0   ]  a   t   1   5  :   4   7   1   4   A  p  r   i   l   2   0   1   4  A Note on the Definition of PeasantriesbySidney W. Mintz More important than an abstract definition of thepeasantry is the development of typologies of rural socio-economic groupings. Such typologies should facilitate con-trolled comparisons between societies whose rural sociologyreveals broadly similar structures. They might include thefollowing features: the internal composition of the so-calledpeasant  sector;  the relationships of different parts of thatsector to  other non-peasant rural groups; the social-relational uses made of traditional cultural forms in ruralcommunity life, for handling linkages between different partsof the peasantry and between peasants and non-peasants;and the historical development of the peasant  sector. A frustrating aspect of the growing vogue for the study ofpeasant societies has been a persisting lack of consensus amongscholars about the definition of the peasantry 1 . In a recent paper,Shanin  [1971a]  has sought to summarize briefly some of the mainintellectual traditions within which the study of peasantries has advanced,  and to offer a general definition, based on four principalcharacteristics of such groups. To this discussion he adds anenumeration of seven (or better, eight) 'analytically marginalgroups', such as agricultural labourers, tribesmen, frontier squatters,etc., whom he sees as sharing some of the characteristics of thepeasantry, though not all  [cf.  Wolf 1955].  Finally, he proposes alist of sources  or  forms of change—the spread of market relations,professional specialization, etc.—which are intended to help thescholar understand the peasantry as process, rather than as type,and thus to avoid the tendency of typological systems to becomestatic.Shanin's contribution is a helpful addition to previous attempts atdefinition and description, among which may be mentioned thoseof Redfield  [1956],  Thorner  [1962],  Foster  [1967],  Geertz [1962]  and particularly Wolf  [  1955;  1966; 1969].  While he maygo too far in attributing anthropology's interest in peasantries tothe specter of technological unemployment—the disappearance of'primitive' societies—Shanin is justified in noting that anthropolo-gists turned to the study of peasantries for the most part  fautede mieux.  It can be added, furthermore, that the invisible ladder ofethnographic prestige continues to rise from the depths of thepeasantry to the heights of what one anthropological colleague has * Professor of Anthropology, Yale University. The author is very grateful to Mr. KennethSharpe, Department of Political Science, Yale University, for critical comments and adviceon earlier drafts of this paper, though full responsibility for its contents remains his own.    D  o  w  n   l  o  a   d  e   d   b  y   [   2   0   0 .   1   2   9 .   1   8   7 .   5   0   ]  a   t   1   5  :   4   7   1   4   A  p  r   i   l   2   0   1   4  92 JOURNAL OF PEASANT STUDIES dubbed 'the uncontaminated McCoy.' Be that as it may, anthropo-logical studies of the peasantry — however we may eventuallychoose to define peasants—are here to stay, and date from at leastas early as Robert Redfield's  Tepoztlán [1930].  In fact, it is notanthropology, so much as political science and sociology, that havelagged behind in 'discovering' the peasantry, particularly if we havein mind the agricultural sociology of world areas outside the Euro-pean heartland. Historical, sociological and economic contributionsto the study of European peasantries are, of course, of extremelylong standing, as Shanin points out. But anthropology's recent rolehas been useful precisely because its practitioners concerned them-selves with what is now fashionably referred to as the third World,and were perhaps the first to notice that in that world, as in Europeitself, political convulsions did not always srcinate with eitherthe rulers or the bourgeoisie.Debates about who peasants are, or how best to define peasan- tries,  like certain other debates in the social sciences—the contro-versy between 'formalists' and 'substantivists' in the study ofprimitive economies, for instance—promise to be unending. 2  Itwould serve no useful purpose to recapitulate again the majordifferences among definitions of the peasantry. Hence this contri-bution will concern itself with several aspects only of the defini-tional problem, as follows: 1 ) the internal composition of the peasant sector, and its significance bothfor definitions of the peasantry and for further analysis of peasantsocieties;2) the relationships of the peasantry, or of specifiable sub-groups withinthe peasantry, to other, non-peasant rural sectors;3) the use of the concepts of 'traditional culture' and 'small community'in defining the peasantry  [Shanin, 1971a: 295-296]; 4) the significance of history for the development of a typology of peasantsocieties, and more operational definitions of the peasantry. It will be immediately apparent that a thorough treatment of anyof these points would exceed the limits of this paper — not tomention the competence of its author. But some discussion of eachof them in turn may clarify the need for middle-range definitionsof peasantries and of peasant societies: definitions that fall some-where between real peasant societies 'on the ground,' so to speak,and the widest-ranging level of definitional statement, adequate todescribe all of them. Hence there is no intention here to qualifythe genuine need for definition, but to make a step toward bridgingthe gap between the realities of the daily life of peasant peopleon the one hand, and the highest level of definitional abstractionon the other. Shanin is right in finding it 'amusing, if not grotesque' [1971:  294]  that scholars have so far failed to agree on whetherthe peasantry exists. But the continuing discussion has certainlyilluminated our understanding of the problems of definition andof the complexity of peasant societies — however they may beultimately defined. The aim here,  then,  is simply to raise some    D  o  w  n   l  o  a   d  e   d   b  y   [   2   0   0 .   1   2   9 .   1   8   7 .   5   0   ]  a   t   1   5  :   4   7   1   4   A  p  r   i   l   2   0   1   4
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