Reconceptualizing the Peasantry: Anthropology in Global Perspective

Reconceptualizing the Peasantry: Anthropology in Global Perspective

Reconceptualizing the Peasantry: Anthropology in Global Perspective

Reconceptualizing the Peasantry: Anthropology in Global Perspective

Synopsis

Kearney looks at rural society in general and considers the problematic distinction between rural and urban. He articulates the way peasants define themselves in a rapidly changing world, and develops ethnographic and political forms of representation.

Excerpt

This book is based on the proposition that the category peasant, whatever validity it may once have had, has been outdistanced by contemporary history. Within anthropology and within peasant studies generally, 'the peasant' was constructed from residual images of preindustrial European and colonial rural society. Informed by romantic sensibilities and modern nationalist imaginations, these images are anachronisms, but nevertheless they remain robust anachronisms even at the end of the twentieth century. As such, they are appropriate targets for a housecleaning that clears space for alternative theoretical views.

What are these postpeasant perspectives? In the most general sense they move from a narrow circumscription of what are held to be peasants per se to, first, a reexamination of rural society in general and then to a consideration of the problematic distinction between rural and urban.

Evaluation of the peasant concept in anthropology -- its inception, growth, and demise-is inseparable from an evaluation of the broader intellectual context of social anthropology in which it is found. Although this book is not a comprehensive assessment of social anthropology, it does sketch the general features of different phases of the discipline's history, each of which predisposed anthropology to construct its objects of study in distinct, characteristic ways. Moreover, this outline of social anthropology's history is an effort to extend anthropology's holistic purview to encompass the discipline itself. Whereas most intellectual histories establish ideas within the context of their own genealogies and the intellectual pedigrees of their authors, this historical sketch seeks to extend the framing context to recent global history. What is called for in a fully anthropological history of anthropology is not just a situating of ideas within the context of the discipline but also a situating of the discipline within the global context.

In brief, then, the thesis is that as the world changes, rather distinct periods can be discerned, each of which conditions anthropology to construct itself and its subjects in ways distinctive of each such moment. This being so, a fully anthropological assessment of an anthropological category such as the peasant requires reference to this broader historical context. Such a fully anthropological history of the discipline has yet to be written, but this present effort points in that direction and suggests that the present shape of the global context is predisposing anthropologists toward such a comprehensive reflexivity.

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