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Graduate Seminar: Syllabus (fall 2007)

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Agrarian Societies

Culture, Power, History, and Development

Anthropology 541a
History 765a
Political Science 779a
F&ES 80054A
Instructors: Amity Doolittle
Robert Harms
James C. Scott
Melina Shannon-DiPietro
Joshua Viertel
Mondays, 1:30-5:20
77 Prospect Street, Room A002
Fall Semester 2007

block print: men harvesting



This seminar presents a multi-disciplinary perspective on the modern transformation of the countryside of the world. The rise of a capitalist mode of production as the engine of a world economy, the emergence of a contentious international polity of nation-states, and the propagation of rationalizing religions and standardizing education are three distinct yet intersecting processes in the modern transformation of the world since the 1500s. These processes have not been inevitable, nor irreversible, nor complete. However, they have been compelling, in so far as they have come to frame both our acceptance of and resistance to the modern order in which we find ourselves.

“Peasant studies” is a rubric for the loosely-bounded, interdisciplinary exploration of the initial modernization of the European countryside and the subsequent engagement and ongoing incorporation of the countryside of Asia, Africa, and the Americas into this modern order. At its most precocious, it tries to comprehend the intrusive thrusts of nation-state formation, capitalist production, and the rationalization of belief into the most distant agrarian regions of the world. At its most instructive, it insists that people everywhere have confronted those forces with their particular histories and distinctive, local configurations of environment, society, and culture. Everywhere, the encounters of old and new ways of viewing the world and organizing activities have been fitful and frightful, always metamorphic, but never uniform. Animating peasant studies has been the concern to demonstrate the varied ways in which peasants have shared in the making of the modern world that has in turn transformed their lives.

We intend this to be an introductory seminar. That is, we assume you may be ignorant of much of the basic literature. We also assume that you work hard and learn fast. Although the varying backgrounds of students and faculty require us to be somewhat eclectic, we hope that the seminar will prove foundational in an interdisciplinary sense for subsequent work on agrarian issues in any discipline. We encourage you, in your writing and discussion, to make vigorous efforts to be understood across disciplinary boundaries.

Seminar meetings combine lectures and discussions. We expect regular attendance; please notify us in advance if you are unable to come to a session. We regard participation in discussions to be a gauge of students’ completion and comprehension of the assigned readings. We will evaluate your performance in the seminar on the basis of this participation and on the quality and timeliness of the writing assignments.

Beginning in the third week, designated students will be asked to take formal responsibility for organizing the discussion of the readings. Such responsibility will be shared as equitably as possible. As far as writing assignments are concerned, there are two. First, students are required to submit short (3-page) essays on three weekly themes/readings of their choice. They may want to link these essays to themes for which they have some responsibility in organizing the discussion.

A second paper is due at the end of the course. This may be either a research paper on a topic related to the course concerns or a theoretical discussion or synthesis of some of the analytical readings we have covered. In either case, it should be negotiated with one of the instructors.

All assigned readings for the seminar are on reserve at the Social Science or Cross Campus Libraries. Copies of all assigned books are available for purchase at Labyrinth. In addition, we have placed a collection of all assigned articles on file at the office of the Program on Agrarian Studies Office (204 Prospect Street, Room 204). Students may choose to have a copy of this file made for their purchase and use.

Weekly Sessions: Topics and Readings

September 10 Week 1 Scott


No Reading

September 17 Week 2 Doolittle

Shifting Cultivation


Harold C. Conklin. [1957] 1975. Hanunóo Agriculture: A Report on an Integral System of Shifting Cultivation in the Philippines. Originally published by the Food and Agriculture Organization, Rome. Reprint, Northford, CT: Elliot’s Books. (Labyrinth)

Anon. 1957. Shifting cultivation. Unasylva 11(1):9-11. (Reading Packet)

Anon. 1951. Colony of North Borneo: Report of the committee on shifting Cultivation. Sabah Archives KPP/TN1. (Reading Packet)

Anon. 1913. Shifting cultivation (ladang). Notes on forestry department and shifting cultivation in North Borneo. (Reading Packet)


Shifting Cultivation: Forest-Eaters, Primitive Environmentalists

The Opium Poppy:
Papaver Somniferum

block print: opium poppy
The Opium Poppy: Papaver Somniferum
Common names: White Poppy, Opium Poppy, Mawseed, Herb of Joy, Mohn, Klapper-Rosen, Mago, Magesamen, Weismagen, wilder Magen, Magensaph, Rosule, Adormidero, Hashas, Kheshkhash Abu Al Noum, O Fang, O Fu Jung, O P‘Ien, Tengkoh, Ya P‘Ien, Yu Mi.

September 24 Week 3 Harms

Chayanov — Household Peasant Economy


A.V. Chayanov. 1986. The Theory of Peasant Economy. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press. Pp. xi-xxiii, 1-24, 35-117 (Labyrinth)

Donald Donham. 1981. Beyond the domestic mode of production. Man 16:515-41. (Reading Packet)


The Economic Basis of Peasant Societies

drawing: peasants indoors

October 1 Week 4 Shannon-DiPietro

American Agriculture


J. Hector St. John de Crevecour. 1957. Letters from an American Farmer. New York: E.P. Dutton. Letter II, “On the Situations, Feelings, and Pleasures of an American Farmer,” pp.17–35. (Reading Packet)

Deborah Fitzgerald. 2003. Every Farm a Factory. New Haven:Yale University Press. Chapter 1, “The Industrial Ideal in American Agriculture,” pp.10–32. (Reading Packet)

Kathryn Marie Dudley. 2000. Debt and Dispossession. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. (Labyrinth)

Michael Pollan. 2006. The Omnivore’s Dilemma. London: Penguin Press. “Industrial Corn,” pp.1–122. (Labyrinth)

Eric Schlosser. 2003. Reefer Madness. New York: Houghton Mifflin. “In the Strawberry Fields,” pp.75–109. (Reading Packet)


The Cultivators of the Earth and the Soil that Feeds Us

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October 8 Week 5 Doolittle

Property Rights


Carol M. Rose. 1994. Property and Persuasion: Essays on the History, Theory, and Rhetoric of Ownership. Boulder: Westview Press. Chapter 2 “Property as Storytelling: Perspectives from Game theory, Narrative Theory, Feminist Theory,” pp.25–45 AND Chapter 9 “Seeing Property,” pp.267–304. (Reading Packet)

Nancy L. Peluso. 1996. Fruit trees and family trees in an anthropogenic forest: Ethics of access, property zones, and environmental change in Indonesia. Comparative Studies in Society and History 38:510–48. (Reading Packet)


Property Rights: Social Relations Surrounding Access to and Ownership of Resources

October 15 Week 6 Scott



John Womack. 1970. Zapata and the Mexican Revolution. Knopf. (Labyrinth)

John Steinbeck. 1975. Zapata. Penguin Books (screenplay). (Labyrinth)


The Sociology of Revolution: North and South Vietnam, Northern and Southern Mexico

drawing: Zapatistas
October 22 Week 7 Harms

Social Change and the Longue Durée


Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie. 1974. The Peasants Peasants of Languedoc, translated by John Day. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. (Labyrinth)

Robert Brenner. “Agrarian class structure and economic development in pre-industrial Europe,” and Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, “A reply to Robert Brenner,” in The Brenner Debate: Agrarian Class Structure and Economic Development in Pre-Industrial Europe, edited by T.H. Aston and C.H.E. Philpin, pp. 10–63, 101–6. (Reading Packet)


Social Change and the Longue Durré

October 29 Week 8 Scott



Michael Pollan. 2001. The Botany of Desire. New York: Random House. (Labyrinth)

James C. McCann 2005. Maize and Grace. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. (Labyrinth)


Potatoes and Tomatoes

drawing: the potato drawing: cotton plant

November 5 Week 9 Harms

Colonial Agriculture


Allen Isaacman. 1996. Cotton is the Mother of Poverty. Portsmouth, N.H.: Heinemann. (Labyrinth)

Michael R. Dove. 1997 “Political ecology of pepper in the ‘Hikyat Banjar’: the historiography of commodity production in a Bornean kingdom,” in Paper Landscapes: Explorations in the Environmental History of Indonesia, edited by P. Boomgaard, et al. Leiden: Koninklijk Instituut vor Taal, Land-en-Volkenkunde, pp. 341–77. (Reading Packet)


Agriculture and Colonialism

November 12 Week 10 Viertel

The Sustainable Food Movement


Michael Pollan. 2006. The Omnivore’s Dilemma. London: Penguin Press. “Pastoral Grass,” pp.122–73.

Coleman, Eliot. 1995. The New Organic Grower. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing Company. Chapter 10, “Soil Fertility,” pp.94–110; and Chapter 17, “Pests?” pp.172–84. (Reading Packet)

Wendell Berry. 2002. The Art of the Commonplace. Washington, DC: Counterpoint. “The Whole Horse,” pp.236–49; “Solving for Pattern,” pp. 267–75; “The Pleasure of Eating,” pp.321–27. (Labyrinth)

Wendell Berry. 1982. The Gift of Good Land. New York: North Point Press. “Agricultural Solutions to Agricultural Problems,” pp.113–24. (Reading Packet)

Sir Albert Howard. 1943. An Agricultural Testament. New York and London: Oxford University Press. Introduction. (Reading Packet)

Andrew Kimbrell, ed. 2002. The Fatal Harvest Reader: The Tragedy of Industrial Agriculture. Sausalito, CA: Foundation for Deep Ecology. Part One, “Corporate Lies: Busting the Myths of Industrial Agriculture,” pp.1–36; and Part Four and Afterward, “Organic and Beyond: Revisioning Agriculture for the 21st Century,” pp.225–321. (Labyrinth)

Explore Websites for Slow Food USA and Slow Food International


From Soil Organic Matter to Eco-Gastronomy

drawing: farm machinery

November 26 Week 11 Doolittle, Harms, Scott

Conservation Heroes/Oral Histories


Theodore Rosengarten. 1974. All God’s Dangers: The Life of Nate Shaw. Knopf (distributed by Random House). (Labyrinth)

Edward Ives. 1993. George Magoon and Down East Game War: History, Folklore, and the Law. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. (Labyrinth)

Visit: http://www.mountainvoices.org/ to explore oral histories


Works and Lives

drawing: man sowing

December 3 Week 12 Doolittle, Harms, Scott

Global Environmentalism/Development


Michael Goldman. 2005. Imperial Nature: The World Bank and Struggles for Social Justice in an Age of Globalization. Yale University Press. (Labyrinth)


James Ferguson and Larry Lohmann. 1994. The anti-politics machine: "development" and bureaucratic power in Lesotho. The Ecologist 24 (6):176. (Reading Packet)


Parochialism Dressed up as Universalism

drawing: sheaf of grain

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Program in Agrarian Studies
Yale University
Box 208209
New Haven, CT 06520-8209
campus address: 204 Prospect Street, Room 204
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Yale Program in Agrarian Studies / Last updated Sun, Aug 23, 2009