Eric Wolf’s “Peasantry and Its Problems”

[Note as of October 2012: I have recently been told that several college/university students have been using my work below. Heads up, my paper was uploaded into, so if you are trying to plagiarise, you will be found out, so please don’t even think about it. If you want to use this as a source, ok, but do not steal it.]

In Eric Wolf’s Peasantry and Its Problems, we encounter an analysis of peasants and their way of life. Wolf compares and contrasts between primitive societies and peasant societies, of whom he writes, “form part of larger, more complex societies[1].” Peasants are found the world over, and there are some societies in which the peasantry if the majority of the population. These roles include food cultivation, which may arguably be the most important. As the notes at the bottom of Wolf’s writing indicate; Wolf was rather Marxist in his views of the peasantry and how they form a huge part of society. Wolf discusses how many aspects of civilization form the role that the peasant takes.

Peasants had a major role in civilization and in history for peasants were the ones plowing the fields, harvesting crops, and working for the elite few. As Wolf states, “the Industrial Revolution has created vast complexes of machines that produce goods quite independently of peasants [2]. This reminds me of North and South, a novel written by Elizabeth Gaskell, which was set during the Industrial Revolution in Manchester, England and described the lives of the factory workers (peasants) who toiled rather oppressively under a handful of greedy masters. Machines created a less great need for human labour. In Imperial Russia, serfdom (again, comprised of peasants) was primarily used for agricultural purposes, which again shows the importance and link between peasants and food production.

Even in modern-day China, peasants make up the majority of the population [3]. India, with its caste system and old traditional culture, has maintained the strict social structured of the past and incorporated them into today’s Indian culture. Even here in the United States, we have a thinly-veiled class system in which many now argue there is a greater poor (or peasant) population for the middle class is shrinking and the poor are becoming the majority. As stated previously, machines are fast becoming part of our everyday lives. Many people have lost their jobs due to newer technologies taking away the need for their human labour. Though peasants have played an extraordinary role in the rise of civilizations, it appears that the use of such technologies may actually have a negative impact on populations as a result of the lack of work and which “may render the peasant economically useless [4].”

[1] Wolf, Eric. Peasantry and Its Problems. Anthropological Theory, 310.

[2] Wolf, Eric. Peasantry and Its Problems. Anthropological Theory, 317.


[4] Wolf, Eric. Peasantry and Its Problems. Anthropological Theory, 317.

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