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Title: In Defence of the "Peasant"
Contributor(s): Owen, John Robert (author)
Publication Date: 2005
DOI: 10.1080/00472330580000211
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Abstract: It is commonplace to begin an argument by first outlining a particular problem. This article then must be something of a nuisance since it begins, not with a problem, but with an ambiguity. To illustrate this ambiguity consider the following snippet from anthropologist Raymond Firth: 'Definition of the term "peasant" has been the subject of some argument in recent years. It can be held that this is not a critical term, capable of much theoretical handling, but it is a broad descriptive term of an empirical kind, suitable only for demarcating rough boundaries in categorisation ... Definition of a system as "peasant" implies that it has its own particular local character, partly because of intricate community interrelationships and partly because, in economic and social affairs, it both contributes to and draws upon a town in trade, cultural exchange and general ideology.' What precisely here might be taken up for ambiguous interpretation? Firstly, there is the indication of a broad descriptive term. Though Firth qualifies this by stating that it is of the empirical kind, a qualification is not always sufficient to deter from further conceptual manipulation and revision. Secondly, the particular local character could be taken to infer an individualisation of the term "peasant", not only that peasant systems are to be individually defined, but that individual peasants are defined according to their own individual character, reducing the notion from social construction to an analysis of peasant selves. Firth also positions the "peasant" as being at a juncture point of "ideology", commercial life, and a vessel of "cultural exchange". Though these juncture points attest to the breadth and descriptive nature of the peasant category (at least for Firth), they are also themselves the subject or core areas of scholarship, ie, political science, economics and cultural studies. It must be conceded that "ideology", commerce and "culture" are themselves critical concepts, each in their own right the very backbone of entire disciplines.
Publication Type: Journal Article
Source of Publication: Journal of Contemporary Asia, 35(3), p. 368-385
Publisher: Routledge
Place of Publication: United Kingdom
ISSN: 0047-2336
Field of Research (FOR): 160199 Anthropology not elsewhere classified
Peer Reviewed: Yes
HERDC Category Description: C1 Refereed Article in a Scholarly Journal
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