A peasant is a pre-industrial agricultural laborer or farmer with limited land ownership, especially one living in the Middle Ages under feudalism and paying rent, tax, fees, or services to a landlord.In Europe, peasants were divided into three classes according to their personal status: slave, serf, and free tenant. Peasants either hold title to land in fee simple, or hold land by any of several forms of land tenure, among them socage, quit-rent, leasehold, and copyhold.
A farmer is a person engaged in agriculture, raising living organisms for food or raw materials. The term usually applies to people who do some combination of raising field crops, orchards, vineyards, poultry, or other livestock. A farmer might own the farmed land or might work as a laborer on land owned by others, but in advanced economies, a farmer is usually a farm owner, while employees of the farm are known as farm workers, or farmhands. However, in the not so distant past, a farmer was a person who promotes or improves the growth of by labor and attention, land or crops or raises animals.
In the history of Europe, the Middle Ages lasted from the 5th to the 15th century. It began with the fall of the Western Roman Empire and transitioned into the Renaissance and the Age of Discovery. The Middle Ages is the middle period of the three traditional divisions of Western history: classical antiquity, the medieval period, and the modern period. The medieval period is itself subdivided into the Early, High, and Late Middle Ages.
Feudalism was a combination of legal and military customs in medieval Europe that flourished between the 9th and 15th centuries. Broadly defined, it was a way of structuring society around relationships derived from the holding of land in exchange for service or labour. Although derived from the Latin word feodum or feudum (fief), then in use, the term feudalism and the system it describes were not conceived of as a formal political system by the people living in the Middle Ages. The classic definition, by François-Louis Ganshof (1944), feudalism describes a set of reciprocal legal and military obligations among the warrior nobility revolving around the three key concepts of lords, vassals and fiefs.
In a colloquial sense, "peasant" often has a pejorative meaning and is therefore seen as insulting and controversial in some circles, even when referring to farm laborers in the developing world; as early as in 13th-century Germany, the word also meant "villain, rustic, robber". Presently, its definition also includes the pejorative sense of "an ignorant, rude, or unsophisticated person" . The word rose to renewed popularity in the 1940s-1960s as a collective term, often referring to rural populations of developing countries in general - as the "semantic successor to 'native', incorporating all its condescending and racial overtones".
Germany, officially the Federal Republic of Germany, is a country in Central and Western Europe, lying between the Baltic and North Seas to the north and the Alps, Lake Constance and the High Rhine to the south. It borders Denmark to the north, Poland and the Czech Republic to the east, Austria and Switzerland to the south, France to the southwest, and Luxembourg, Belgium and the Netherlands to the west.
The word peasantry is commonly used in a non-pejorative sense as a collective noun for the rural population in the poor and developing countries of the world. Via Campesina, an organization representing about 200,000,000 farm workers' rights around the world self-defines as an "International Peasant's Movement" as of 2019. The United Nations Human Rights Council prominently utiziles the term "peasant" in a non-pejorative sense in its 2018 Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas. In general literature, the use of "peasant" has been in steady decline since 1970.
In linguistics, a collective noun refers to a collection of things taken as a whole. Most collective nouns in everyday speech are mundane and not specific to just one kind, such as the word "group", which is applied to "people" in phrase "a group of people", but is also applied to "dogs" in the phrase "a group of dogs". Some collective nouns are specific to one kind, especially terms of venery, which identify specific groups of animals. For example, "pride" as a term of venery always refers to lions, never to dogs or cows. Other specific examples come from popular culture such as a group of owls, which is called a "parliament".
La Vía Campesina was founded in 1993 by farmers organizations from Europe, Latin America, Asia, North America, Central America and Africa. It describes itself as "an international movement which coordinates peasant organizations of small and middle-scale producers, agricultural workers, rural women, and indigenous communities from Asia, Africa, America, and Europe". It is a coalition of 182 organisations in 81 countries, advocating family-farm-based sustainable agriculture and was the group that coined the term "food sovereignty". La Vía Campesina has carried out a campaign to defend farmer's seeds, a campaign to stop violence against women, a campaign for the recognition of the rights of peasants, a global campaign for agrarian reform, and others.
The United Nations Human Rights Council is a United Nations body whose mission is to promote and protect human rights around the world. The UNHRC has 47 members elected for staggered three-year terms on a regional group basis. The headquarters of UNHRC is in Geneva, Switzerland.
More precise terms that describe current farm laborers without land ownership are farmworker or campesino, tenant farmer, and sharecropper.
A farmworker is a hired agricultural worker on a farm that works for the farmers. However, in discussions relating to labor law application, the term "farmworker" is sometimes used more narrowly, applying only to a hired worker involved in agricultural production, including harvesting, i.e. not to a worker in other on-farm jobs, such as packing.
A tenant farmer is one who resides on land owned by a landlord. Tenant farming is an agricultural production system in which landowners contribute their land and often a measure of operating capital and management, while tenant farmers contribute their labor along with at times varying amounts of capital and management. Depending on the contract, tenants can make payments to the owner either of a fixed portion of the product, in cash or in a combination. The rights the tenant has over the land, the form, and measure of the payment varies across systems. In some systems, the tenant could be evicted at whim ; in others, the landowner and tenant sign a contract for a fixed number of years. In most developed countries today, at least some restrictions are placed on the rights of landlords to evict tenants under normal circumstances.
The word "peasant" is derived from the 15th-century French word païsant (compare Italian paesano), meaning one from the pays, or countryside; ultimately from the Latin pagus, or outlying administrative district.
Italian is a Romance language of the Indo-European language family. Italian descended from the Vulgar Latin of the Roman Empire and, together with Sardinian, is by most measures the closest language to it of the Romance languages. Italian is an official language in Italy, Switzerland, San Marino and Vatican City. It has an official minority status in western Istria. It formerly had official status in Albania, Malta, Monaco, Montenegro (Kotor) and Greece, and is generally understood in Corsica and Savoie. It also used to be an official language in the former Italian East Africa and Italian North Africa, where it still plays a significant role in various sectors. Italian is also spoken by large expatriate communities in the Americas and Australia. Italian is included under the languages covered by the European Charter for Regional or Minority languages in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in Romania, although Italian is neither a co-official nor a protected language in these countries. Many speakers of Italian are native bilinguals of both Italian and other regional languages.
Peasants typically made up the majority of the agricultural labour force in a pre-industrial society. The majority of the people in the Middle Ages were peasants.
Pre-industrial society refers to social attributes and forms of political and cultural organization that were prevalent before the advent of the Industrial Revolution, which occurred from 1750 to 1850. Pre-industrial is a time before there were machines and tools to help perform tasks en masse. Pre-industrial civilization dates back to centuries ago, but the main era known as the Pre-Industrial Society occurred right before the industrial society. Pre-Industrial societies vary from region to region depending on the culture of a given area or history of social and political life. The Indian subcontinent was known for its spread of Islam by the Delhi Sultanate and Mughal Empire, which later caused the emergence of the proto-industrialization, while Europe for its feudal system and the Italian Renaissance.
Though "peasant" is a word of loose application, once a market economy had taken root, the term peasant proprietors was frequently used to describe the traditional rural population in countries where smallholders farmed much of the land. More generally, the word "peasant" is sometimes used to refer pejoratively to those considered to be "lower class", perhaps defined by poorer education and/or a lower income.
The open field system of agriculture dominated most of northern Europe during medieval times and endured until the nineteenth century in many areas. Under this system, peasants lived on a manor presided over by a lord or a bishop of the church. Peasants paid rent or labor services to the lord in exchange for their right to cultivate the land. Fallowed land, pastures, forests, and wasteland were held in common. The open field system required cooperation among the peasants of the manor.It was gradually replaced by individual ownership and management of land.
The relative position of peasants in Western Europe improved greatly after the Black Death had reduced the population of medieval Europe in the mid-14th century: resulting in more land for the survivors and making labor more scarce. In the wake of this disruption to the established order, later centuries saw the invention of the printing press, the development of widespread literacy and the enormous social and intellectual changes of the Enlightenment.
The evolution of ideas in an environment of relatively widespread literacy laid the groundwork for the Industrial Revolution, which enabled mechanically and chemically augmented agricultural production while simultaneously increasing the demand for factory workers in cities, who became what Karl Marx called the proletariat. The trend toward individual ownership of land, typified in England by Enclosure, displaced many peasants from the land and compelled them, often unwillingly, to become urban factory-workers, who came to occupy the socio-economic stratum formerly the preserve of the medieval peasants.
This process happened in an especially pronounced and truncated way in Eastern Europe. Lacking any catalysts for change in the 14th century, Eastern European peasants largely continued upon the original medieval path until the 18th and 19th centuries. Serfdom was abolished in Russia in 1861, and while many peasants would remain in areas where their family had farmed for generations, the changes did allow for the buying and selling of lands traditionally held by peasants, and for landless ex-peasants to move to the cities.Even before emancipation in 1861, serfdom was on the wane in Russia. The proportion of serfs within the empire had gradually decreased "from 45-50 percent at the end of the eighteenth century, to 37.7 percent in 1858."
In Germany, peasants continued to center their lives in the village well into the 19th century. They belonged to a corporate body and helped to manage the community resources and to monitor community life.In the East they had the status of serfs bound permanently to parcels of land. A peasant is called a "Bauer" in German and "Bur" in Low German (pronounced in English like boor).
In most of Germany, farming was handled by tenant farmers who paid rents and obligatory services to the landlord—typically a nobleman.Peasant leaders supervised the fields and ditches and grazing rights, maintained public order and morals, and supported a village court which handled minor offenses. Inside the family the patriarch made all the decisions, and tried to arrange advantageous marriages for his children. Much of the villages' communal life centered on church services and holy days. In Prussia, the peasants drew lots to choose conscripts required by the army. The noblemen handled external relationships and politics for the villages under their control, and were not typically involved in daily activities or decisions.
Information about the complexities of the French Revolution, especially the fast-changing scene in Paris, reached isolated areas through both official announcements and long-established oral networks. Peasants responded differently to different sources of information. The limits on political knowledge in these areas depended more on how much peasants chose to know than on bad roads or illiteracy. Historian Jill Maciak concludes that peasants "were neither subservient, reactionary, nor ignorant."
In his seminal book Peasants into Frenchmen: the Modernization of Rural France, 1880–1914 (1976), historian Eugen Weber traced the modernization of French villages and argued that rural France went from backward and isolated to modern and possessing a sense of French nationhood during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.He emphasized the roles of railroads, republican schools, and universal military conscription. He based his findings on school records, migration patterns, military-service documents and economic trends. Weber argued that until 1900 or so a sense of French nationhood was weak in the provinces. Weber then looked at how the policies of the Third Republic created a sense of French nationality in rural areas. The book was widely praised, but some argued that a sense of Frenchness existed in the provinces before 1870.
Farmers in China have been sometimes referred to as "peasants" in English-language sources. However, the traditional term for farmer, nongfu (农夫), simply refers to "farmer" or "agricultural worker". In the 19th century, Japanese intellectuals reinvented the Chinese terms fengjian (封建) for "feudalism" and nongmin (农民), or "farming people", terms used in the description of feudal Japanese society. These terms created a negative image of Chinese farmers by making a class distinction where one had not previously existed. Anthropologist Myron Cohen considers these terms to be neologisms that represented a cultural and political invention. He writes:
This divide represented a radical departure from tradition: F. W. Mote and others have shown how especially during the later imperial era (Ming and Qing dynasties), China was notable for the cultural, social, political, and economic interpenetration of city and countryside. But the term nongmin did enter China in association with Marxist and non-Marxist Western perceptions of the "peasant," thereby putting the full weight of the Western heritage to use in a new and sometimes harshly negative representation of China's rural population. Likewise, with this development Westerners found it all the more "natural" to apply their own historically derived images of the peasant to what they observed or were told in China. The idea of the peasant remains powerfully entrenched in the Western perception of China to this very day.
Modern Western writers often continue to use the term peasant for Chinese farmers, typically without ever defining what the term means.This Western use of the term suggests that China is stagnant, "medieval", underdeveloped, and held back by its rural population. Cohen writes that the "imposition of the historically burdened Western contrasts of town and country, shopkeeper and peasant, or merchant and landlord, serves only to distort the realities of the Chinese economic tradition".
In medieval Europe society was theorized as being organized into three estates: those who work, those who pray, and those who fight.The Annales School of 20th-century French historians emphasized the importance of peasants. Its leader Fernand Braudel devoted the first volume—called The Structures of Everyday Life—of his major work, Civilization and Capitalism 15th–18th Century to the largely silent and invisible world that existed below the market economy.
Other research in the field of peasant studies was promoted by Florian Znaniecki and Fei Xiaotong, and in the post-1945 studies of the "great tradition" and the "little tradition" in the work of Robert Redfield. In the 1960s, anthropologists and historians began to rethink the role of peasant revolt in world history and in their own disciplines. Peasant revolution was seen as a Third World response to capitalism and imperialism.
The anthropologist Eric Wolf, for instance, drew on the work of earlier scholars in the Marxist tradition such as Daniel Thorner, who saw the rural population as a key element in the transition from feudalism to capitalism. Wolf and a group of scholarscriticized both Marx and the field of modernization theorists for treating peasants as lacking the ability to take action. James C. Scott's field observations in Malaysia convinced him that villagers were active participants in their local politics even though they were forced to use indirect methods. Many of these activist scholars looked back to the peasant movement in India and to the theories of the revolution in China led by Mao Zedong starting in the 1920s. The anthropologist Myron Cohen, however, asked why the rural population in China were called "peasants" rather than "farmers", a distinction he called political rather than scientific. One important outlet for their scholarly work and theory was The Journal of Peasant Studies .
Manorialism or Seignorialism was an organizing principle of rural economies which vested legal and economic power in a Lord of the Manor. He was supported economically from his own direct landholding in a manor, and from the obligatory contributions of a legally subject part of the peasant population under his jurisdiction and that of his manorial court. These obligations could be payable in several ways, in labor, in kind, or, on rare occasions, in coin.
Serfdom is the status of many peasants under feudalism, specifically relating to manorialism, and similar systems. It was a condition of debt bondage and indentured servitude, which developed during the Late Antiquity and Early Middle Ages in Europe and lasted in some countries until the mid-19th century.
A vassal is a person regarded as having a mutual obligation to a lord or monarch, in the context of the feudal system in medieval Europe. The obligations often included military support by knights in exchange for certain privileges, usually including land held as a tenant or fief. The term is also applied to similar arrangements in other feudal societies.
Corvée is a form of unpaid, unfree labour, which is intermittent in nature and which lasts limited periods of time: typically only a certain number of days' work each year.
Examples of feudalism are helpful to fully understand feudalism and feudal society. Feudalism was practiced in many different ways, depending on location and time period, thus a high-level encompassing conceptual definition does not always provide a reader with the intimate understanding that detailed historical examples provide.
Folwark is a Polish word for a primarily serfdom-based farm and agricultural enterprise, often very large.
Rodney Howard Hilton, FBA was an English Marxist historian of the late medieval period and the transition from feudalism to capitalism. He was born in Manchester and studied at Balliol College Oxford University and was a member of the Communist Party Historians Group before leaving the party in 1956 with many others. He had a 36-year teaching career at the University of Birmingham. His papers are held at the University of Birmingham Special Collections.
The term "serf", in the sense of an unfree peasant of the Russian Empire, is the usual translation of krepostnoi krestyanin which meant an unfree person who, unlike a slave, could be sold only with the land he or she was "attached" to. Historic legal documents of the epoch, such as Russkaya Pravda, distinguished several degrees of feudal dependency of peasants.
The Serfdom Patent of 1 November 1781 aimed to abolish aspects of the traditional serfdom system of the Habsburg Monarchy through the establishment of basic civil liberties for the serfs.
A villein, otherwise known as cottar, crofter, is a serf tied to the land in the feudal system. Villeins had more rights and status than those in slavery, but were under a number of legal restrictions which differentiated them from the freeman.
Georgian feudalism, or patronqmoba, as the system of personal dependence or vassalage in ancient and medieval Georgia is referred to, arose from a tribal-dynastic organization of society upon which was imposed, by royal authority, an official hierarchy of regional governors, local officials and subordinates. It is thought to have its roots into the ancient Georgian, or Iberian, society of Hellenistic period.
Rural history is an interdisciplinary field of historical research which focuses on the history of rural societies. At its inception, the field was based on the economic history of agriculture. Since the 1980s it has become increasingly influenced by social history and has diverged from economically-focused "agricultural history". It can be considered an equivalent of urban history.
The Brenner debate was a major debate amongst Marxist historians during the late 1970s and early 1980s, regarding the origins of capitalism.
Serfdom in Poland became the dominant form of relationship between peasants and nobility in the 17th century, and was a major feature of the economy of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, although its origins can be traced back to the 12th century.
Like slavery, serfdom has a long history that dates to ancient times.
State serfs or state peasants were a special social estate (class) of peasantry in 18th–19th century Russia, the number of which in some periods reached half of the agricultural population. In contrast to private Russian serfs, state serfs were considered personally free, although attached to the land. They were liberated in 1866.
The Central Agricultural Zone is a traditional region of Russia. Historically it was the centre of agriculture and colonisation in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and was the most densely populated area of the Russian Empire. It was also the poorest. Before the emancipation of serfs, it was home to most of the Russian serf population, and later it was also the centre of the communal system, which contributed to the areas relative poverty compared to the rest of Russia.
Agriculture in the Middle Ages describes the farming practices, crops, technology, and agricultural society and economy of Europe from the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 to approximately 1500. The Middle Ages are sometimes called the Medieval Age or Period. The Middle Ages are also divided into the Early, High, and Late Middle Ages. The early modern period followed the Middle Ages.
French peasants were the largest socio-economic group in France until the mid-20th century.
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