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Qian Forrest Zhang

The agrarian change in China in the past 70 years has unfolded in unique historical and political-economic contexts, which were most importantly shaped by the prolonged peasant revolution. The revolution created a powerful state that not only had an extraordinary capacity in transforming the agrarian social structure but also adopted a unique set of developmental agendas. While in the first 30 years China pursued the socialist model of agrarian transition, in the recent four decades, China's agrarian change is characterized by the rise of agrarian capitalism, as the commodification of existence deepens in the countryside and a multitude of dynamics of capital accumulation emerges in agriculture.

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Jennifer C. Franco and Sof'a Monsalve Suárez

Working peoples’ struggles for land control are neither new nor random historical events, but instead are partly defensive reactions to capitalist encroachment and enclosures (‘global land grab’) and to the ways that powerful state and non-state actors use law to capture control of land to facilitate capitalist accumulation. Both global and national land policy making have become key battlegrounds in assertions of a human right to land from below. What a human right to land looks like is variable and situational - shaped by subaltern experiences, imaginaries, moral economies and calculated responses to efforts to organize things that are ‘obviously not commodities’, namely, land, labor and money, into a market controlled economy.

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Sergio Coronado

Scholars from critical agrarian studies recurrently engage with legal issues by analyzing the politics of lawmaking, competing legal frameworks, the role of the state in agrarian law making, and issues around land rights regulation. The chapter synthesizes these debates by introducing a concept of agrarian law rooted in the acknowledgement of different, often competing, legal traditions. It discusses how these competing approaches influence the regulation of land tenure systems and how they relate to broader political-economic processes. In the last section, the chapter discusses the connection between agrarian law, environmental law and human rights law, as they are currently articulated in the context of agrarian movements’ legal mobilization.

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Michael Watts

This chapter explores the modern usage of the ‘the agrarian question’ which can be traced back to Adam Smith and the Scottish Enlightenment political economists, and to Karl Marx in his famous chapter on primitive accumulation in Volume One of Capital. All of these thinkers were concerned with the origins of capitalism, the forms of capitalist agriculture and the transition from feudalism to capitalist modes of production. By the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the agrarian question took on a new lease of life with the appearance of Karl Kautsky’s classic work, The Agrarian Question published in 1899 when European agriculture was being radically re-shaped by deepening demands for staple foods as economies entered into the Second Industrial Revolution. This chapter consists of four parts. The chapter consists of (i) a synopsis of the so-called classical debates over the agrarian question and various paths of agrarian transitions in the Global North and South; (ii) how has the emergence in the twentieth century of a global corporate-dominated agro-food system challenged and extended some of the classical agrarian debates, and (iii) why the agrarian question remains a vital one and an important focus for theoretical debate and reflection.

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Samir Amin

This contribution seeks to discuss the emergence of a new agrarian question in the African as well as the Asian and Latin American context. Against the background of growing economic dependencies fostered by Western capitalist modernization, it critically examines persistent asymmetries between the Global South and North within the international agricultural system. In this sense, it argues that the further integration of Southern agricultures into the global markets will result in increasing pauperization and precariousness in the Third World. Hence, the author calls for the unification of alliances fighting for more equitable and sustainable food systems.

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Ben Cousins

This chapter provides a brief survey of agrarian/land reforms launched in the twentieth century and locates them in different historical periods. It sketches their highly diverse origins, politics and impacts, and suggests that substantive diversity in the experience of such reforms arises because of the markedly different contexts in which they have occurred. It also assesses contemporary debates on agrarian and land reform and explores the main lines of differences between four key paradigms: neo-classical economics; neo-classical populism; radical populism; and Marxist. These approaches are critically assessed, as is their salience for critical agrarian studies.

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Muhammad Ali Jan and Barbara Harriss-White

Despite the importance of agricultural markets for the process of agrarian transformation, their diversity and actual workings remain woefully understudied in orthodox Marxist accounts. Critical Marxist scholarship has done much to redress this but still suffers from an inability to view markets as complex, adaptive systems with great organizational and institutional diversity, in which capitalist and non-capitalist forms co-exist. Agricultural markets contain struggles not simply between capital and labour but between a wider array of class and non-class actors. This chapter makes a plea for a complex systems approach to agricultural markets within critical agrarian studies and introduces the literature which can act as a guide.

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Nils McCune and Peter Rosset

Agroecology is the systematization of the Indigenous knowledge systems that have produced food for millennia; since the 1980s, it has emerged as a fusion of science, practice, and a movement for global change. To the degree that agroecology has gained prominence as an approach toward food system sustainability, transnational corporations and public institutions vie with social movements to define agroecology and its potential. As a collective praxis of food sovereignty, agroecology is becoming a globally relevant tool for land and class struggle in the hands of rural communities and popular movements.

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Utsa Patnaik

The first Industrial Revolution in Britain did not see a prior ‘agricultural revolution’ that raised productivity sufficiently enough to meet wage goods needs. Rather, there was a prolonged agitation for free wheat imports as per capita grain output declined between 1750 and 1850. Industrialization in Britain was not constrained however, owing to large tax-financed and slave rent-financed transfers of wage goods and raw materials from its colonies of conquest in Asia and the West Indies. The accepted narrative, by ignoring such transfers, ignores the reason for the continuing thrust of Northern countries using new free trade regimes and income-deflating policies to access the primary products of the global South, thereby severely undermining the latter’s food security.

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Boris Verbrugge and Robin Thiers

Artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) - low-tech, labor-intensive mineral extraction and processing - is witnessing a rapid expansion across the globe, and is having a deeply transformative impact on the surrounding countryside. This chapter explores how critical agrarian studies can contribute to our understanding of this phenomenon. First, by drawing analytical attention to capital-labour dynamics, it can provide new insights into dynamics of social differentiation, and on who stands to gain from the expansion of ASM. Secondly, it can help us make sense of how ASM, as a repository of cheap and flexible labour, is integrated into the global, capitalist economy.