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Agrarian Questions in Latin America

Tamara Wattnem

From the colonial creation of encomiendas, to the 20th century civil wars and revolutions, struggles over land have been one of the major dramas of Latin American history. In this seminar we address key agrarian questions in the region, with special attention to dynamics in the 20th and 21st centuries. These include a discussion of competing views on agricultural development and modernization, how peasants and farmers have been variously conceptualized, and some of the major demands of contemporary rural social movements. The study of agrarian change is crucial for understanding Latin America’s integration to the global capitalist system, the politics of agrarian reform, the origins of rural violence, migration patterns, domestic labor regimes, environmental and cultural politics, and socio-economic inequalities.   

Required reading

  • Kay, Cristobal. 2008. “Reflections on Latin American Rural Studies in the Neoliberal Globalization Period: A New Rurality?” Development and Change, 39(6), 915–943.
  • Otero, Gerardo and Pablo Lapegna. 2016. “Transgenic Crops in Latin America: Expropriation, Negative Value and the State.” Journal of Agrarian Change, 16(4): 665–674.
  • Vergara-Camus, Leandro and Cristobal Kay. 2017. “Agribusiness, peasants, left-wing governments, and the state in Latin America: An overview and theoretical reflections.” Journal of Agrarian Change 17(2): 239–257.
  • Kay, Cristobal. 2001. “Reflections on rural violence in Latin America.” Third World Quarterly 22(5): 741–775.
  • Vergara-Camus, Leandro. 2009. “The MST and the EZLN struggle for land: New forms of peasant rebellions.” Journal of Agrarian Change 9(3): 365–391.

Further reading

  • Akram-Lodhi, Haroom and Cristobal Kay. 2010.  “Surveying the agrarian question (part 1): unearthing foundations, exploring diversity.” Journal of Peasant Studies, 37(1): 177–202.
  • Bernstein, Henry. 2010. Class Dynamics of Agrarian Change. Canada: Fernwood Publishing.
  • Petras, James and Henry Veltmeyer. 2002. “The peasantry and the state in Latin America: A troubled past, an uncertain future.” Journal of Peasant Studies 29(3–4): 41–82.
  • Otero, Gerardo. 2012. “The neoliberal food regime in Latin America: state, agribusiness, transnational corporations and biotechnology.” Canadian Journal of Development Studies 33(3): 282–294.
  • Jaffee, Daniel. 2014. Brewing Justice: Fair Trade Coffee, Sustainability and Survival. Oakland: University of California Press.
  • Felicien, Ana, Christina Schiavoni and Liccia Romero. 2018. “The politics of food in Venezuela.” Monthly Review 70(2): 1–19.
  • Striffler, Steve. 2002. In the Shadows of the State and Capital: The United Fruit Company, Popular Struggle, and Agrarian Restructuring in Ecuador, 1900-1995. Durham: Duke University Press.
  • Hernández, Carol, Hugo Perales and Daniel Jaffee. 2022. “Without Food there is No Resistance”: The impact of the Zapatista conflict on agrobiodiversity and seed sovereignty in Chiapas, Mexico. Geoforum 128: 236–250.
  • Wolford, Wendy. 2010. This Land is Ours Now: Social Mobilization and the Meanings of Land in Brazil. Durham: Duke University Press.
  • Paige, Jeffery. 1997. Coffee & Power: Revolution and the Rise of Democracy in Central America. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
  • McKay, Ben, Alberto Alonso-Fradejas, and Arturo Ezquerro-Cañete (eds.). 2021. Agrarian Extractivism in Latin America. New York: Routledge.
  • Martí i Puig, Salvador and Eduardo Baumeister. 2017. “Agrarian policies in Nicaragua: From revolution to the revival of agro-exports, 1979–2015.” Journal of Agrarian Change 17(2): 381–396.
  • Fitting, Elizabeth. 2011. The Struggle For Maize: Campesinos, Workers and Transgenic Corn in the Mexican Countryside. Durham: Duke University Press.
  • Rosset, Peter et al. 2020. “Pensamiento Latinoamericano Agroecológico: the emergence of a critical Latin American agroecology?” Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems, 1–23.
  • McKay, Ben. 2018. “The politics of agrarian change in Bolivia’s soy complex.” Journal of Agrarian Change 18(2): 406–424.
  • Mintz, Sidney. 1985. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York: Penguin Books.
  • Assies, Willem. 2008. “Land tenure and tenure regimes in Mexico: An overview.” Journal of Agrarian Change 8(1): 33–63.
  • Gauster, Susana and Ryan Isakson. 2007. "Eliminating market distortions, perpetuating rural inequality: an evaluation of market-assisted land reform in Guatemala." Third World Quarterly 28(8): 1519-1536.