- What is agrarian labour? Contrasting indigo production in colonial India and Indonesia
- International Review of Social History
- Volume | Issue number
- 60 | 1
- Pages (from-to)
- Document type
- Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences (FMG)
- Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research (AISSR)
In scholarly writings, the term "agrarian labour" is used variously. It can refer to a very specific set of productive activities - the cultivation of crops and animal husbandry - but it can also have the much broader connotation of rural or non-urban labour. These different uses can be confusing, especially in comparative research. This paper starts from the French comparative agriculture school and its conceptualization of three nested scales of analysis - the "cropping system", the "activity system", and the "agrarian system". It tests these ideas in a comparison of labour employed in the production of indigo dye in two colonial systems (British India and the Dutch East Indies). The article concludes that this approach helps counteract monocausal explanations of labour relations in terms of agro-environmental determinants, the force of colonial capitalism, or local work cultures. It also promotes agriculture-sensitive readings of social transformations by comparing social orders that comprise both agricultural and non-agricultural labour relations.
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