Agriculture is in the focus of different sciences - economy, rural sociology, and anthropology.
Origin of the Agriculture
Danish economist Ester Boserup, in her book The Conditions of Agricultural Growth: the Economics of Agrarian Change Under Population Pressure (1965), developed the theory of agricultural intensification, also known as „Boserup's theory“, which states that population changes are what drive the intensification of agricultural production. Boserup concluded that increasing population density led to the transformation of the environment and the introduction of new technologies, especially in agriculture, by switching from a "slash and burn" type of agriculture to plow and irrigation-based agriculture. By analyzing different agricultural systems, she found that, although the gender division of economic roles exists in every society, those roles, as well as the social importance attached to them, are very different in different types of agriculture.
Plekhanov believes that a materialist explanation of history requires determining the factors that affect the economy of a particular society, in order to understand the further development of that society. Geographical, geological, and ecological properties of an environment (mountains, rivers, seas, ores, flora, and fauna) determine the development of productive forces that will be available to society. The more diverse the properties of the geographical environment, the better the basis for the development of productive forces. With the development of primitive agriculture came slavery, because pastoral tribes killed their captives because they could not use their labor, while agricultural tribes turned captives into slaves so that they could cultivate the land instead of the victors. With the appearance of slavery, for the first time, there was the exploitation of other people's labor and the first class division.
British anthropologist Ernest Gellner believes that it is not possible to create a general theory of social transformations, but, on the other hand, he believes that it is possible to determine a specific series of successive stages that societies go through. Examples are three levels of societies determined by the dominant type of economy: 1) hunter-gatherer societies, 2) agricultural societies, and 3) industrial societies. What is specific to these levels is that the hunter-gatherer society cannot spontaneously transform into an industrial society, it is necessary to go through the agricultural period. On the other hand, society at a higher stage rarely regresses to a lower level. The transformation from the agricultural to the industrial stage is very complicated, so that transformation, once it happens, is transmitted to all other societies through imitation.
Agriculture in the Periods of Slavery and Feudalism
Friedrich Engels's book The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State (2010, in German 1884) examines how the invention of agriculture lead to the development of private property and the state. With the advent of animal husbandry, there was a sharp jump in the level of economic production, and this leads to the emergence of slavery, because, for the first time in history, defeated members of another tribe can be of economic benefit to the victor, as slave labor. With cattle breeding comes the greater economic role of men, so they also become owners of cattle and slaves. This also leads to changes in family relations, as it causes patrilineal calculation of kinship and to right of inheritance of property only through the paternal line, which, in the end, leads to the fall of matriarchy and the arrival of patriarchy to power. Engels believes that the fall of matriarchy is "a historic defeat for women of world proportions". Men came to power, while women became subordinate to male autocracy, and their purpose became only to serve and give birth to children. Patriarchy, unlike matriarchy, where relations between the sexes would be more equal, introduces the autocracy of men as the heads of the family, not only over women but also over children and family slaves. To ensure that children born in wedlock are the direct biological descendants of the father, complete control over the movement and behavior of the woman is introduced. Although polygamy was reserved only for men, it was rare and a privilege only for richer men.
With the advent of animal husbandry and later agriculture, economic development and technological discoveries took place. This paves the way for the emergence of crafts and the division of labor into agriculture and crafts. Craft production leads to the creation of products intended for exchange, therefore, comes the advent of commodity production and trade. With economic growth comes increasing economic stratification, while land ownership shifts from local communities to full private ownership. All this leads to an increase in population density and the creation of large alliances of tribes, formed to wage wars of conquest and defense, and headed by military leaders. By transforming the leadership from the occasional military leader into a permanent and formal position of power, a hereditary monarchy is formed. The division of individuals from the same gentes into poor and rich landowners leads to the disintegration of the genetic order of society, and the creation of classes and hereditary nobility. The disintegration of the gentile organization into a class organization led to the formation of the first state and civilization. Thus the state emerges as a political expression and organ of power for the economically dominant class of large landowners and slaveholders. The formation of the state leads to the further development of trade, which in turn led to the creation of a separate mercantile class, metal money, money market, lending of money and interest payments, and loan-sharing. The formation of the state also leads to the creation of a state bureaucracy that serves to organize the army and collect taxes.
Russian marxist philosopher Georgi Plekhanov believes that a materialist explanation of history requires determining the factors that affect the economy of a particular society, in order to understand the further development of that society. Geographical, geological, and ecological properties of an environment (mountains, rivers, seas, ores, flora, and fauna) determine the development of productive forces that will be available to society. The more diverse the properties of the geographical environment, the better the basis for the development of productive forces. With the development of primitive agriculture came slavery, because pastoral tribes killed their captives because they could not use their labor, while agricultural tribes turned captives into slaves so that they could cultivate the land instead of the victors. With the appearance of slavery, for the first time, there was the exploitation of other people's labor and the first class division.
Russian Marxist philosopher Vladimir Lenin developed the ideas of Karl Marx in the book The Development of Capitalism in Russia (1899). In this book, Lenin shows that in the nineteenth century Russia represented a feudal society in which the peasantry continued to live in serfdom, while at the same time, the cooperative form of ownership persisted. However, Russian feudalism is not characterized by only one form of production (agricultural-feudal), but it forms a "social formation" that includes other forms of production, and above all, the beginnings of the capitalist form of production.
Russian feudalism, as an economic order, operates within a strong and centralized absolutist state. Lenin concludes that Russia is going the "Prussian way", that is, it is going through the same form of transformation that happened in Prussia. As in Prussia, in Russia, the feudal lords slowly became an agricultural bourgeoisie (similar to the Junkers in Prussia) as they began to employ workers to produce goods for the market. This path of development leads to the breakdown of rural cooperative life and rapidly divides the peasantry into several strata. At the top is the agricultural bourgeoisie, in the middle is the middle peasantry, and at the bottom of the pyramid are the rural proletarians and semi-proletarians. In Lenin's opinion, this stratification is positive because it creates natural allies for the industrial workers from the rural proletarians and semi-proletarians, to carry out the communist revolution.
In the book Pre-capitalist Forms of Production (1975), co-authored by Paul Hirst and Barry Hindess, the authors critique the classical Marxist view of feudalism and the Asian mode of production. They believe that the key relationship for feudalism is the economic appropriation of surplus by the owners of the land, from those who cultivate that land, regardless of the legal form (tax, rent) of appropriation of surplus. In addition, the specific legal position of those who cultivate the land is not important for feudalism, unless they are slaves. Feudalism, as an economic form, can be applied to any agrarian society, regardless of whether it is at the state stage or not.
American sociologist Barrington Moore conducted a major socio-historical study, which is presented in the book Social Origins of Democracy and Dictatorship (1966). He explored how historical and social conditions, and above all, the dominant type of economy and class system and class relations, in six countries (Great Britain, France, Germany, Japan, China, and India) influenced the path to democracy or dictatorship, which each of these countries took in the twentieth century. Although Moore accepted some Marxist categories and the general view of deterministic relations between economics and society, he did not accept Marx's universal patterns of historical periods.
Moore believed that achieving democracy in a country mostly depends on the readiness of the bourgeoisie and landowners to accept the commercialization of agriculture. The commercialization of agriculture leads to the formation of an alliance between the bourgeoisie and the landowners, which leads to the collapse of the traditional peasant-agricultural community. If there is no collapse of peasant communities, then there are peasant-agricultural revolutions, such as those in Russia and China. As peasants tend to support undemocratic ideologues, such leaders come to power after revolutions and establish dictatorships. Japan, where the commercialization of agriculture was not carried out, managed to avoid the peasant revolution by including peasant communities in the wider economic and social order.
German-American historian and sociologist Karl Wittfogel is best known for his "hydraulic thesis", which he presented most thoroughly in the book Oriental Despotism (1957). The hydraulic thesis is a hypothesis about the emergence of the first states on the territory of Asia and Egypt. Wittfogel starts from Marx's concept of the "Asian mode of production" in order to explain the origin and development of oriental despotic states. According to Wittfogel, the Asian way of production is a product of specific ecological circumstances. In the valleys of large rivers (Nile, Indus, Yangtze, etc.), societies have developed irrigation technology to increase agricultural production.
As agricultural production and population increased, these irrigation systems became more complex over time, so a high level of cooperation and central planning was needed to maintain these systems. The experts who managed these irrigation systems eventually took power, created a thorough bureaucratic management system, and centralized political decision-making. The states that emerged in this way were characterized by the existence of mass forced labor aimed at maintaining irrigation systems. Those who held positions of power in these states developed a despotic way of governing that was aided by religious authority. Wittfogel continued to study the "hydraulic approach" of the early states, so he applied it to the analysis of the origin and development of states in pre-colonial Latin America. Wittfogel also studied agricultural production in real-socialist societies, primarily in China and the USSR.
Agriculture in Capitalist Societies
German sociologist Franz Oppenheimer applied the economic theory of marginal benefit to formulate a law concerning the outflow of population from the countryside. This law claims that the size of emigration from the countryside is directly proportional to the size of the land owned by the landowners and inversely proportional to the number of rural estates owned by small landowners. When the number of inhabitants in a country grows, the profit rate of industrial products increases, and the profit rate of land products decreases. This leads to migration from the countryside to the cities, which increases competition among industrial workers, thus reducing workers' wages. As a result, the price of industrial products decreases, and the demand for agricultural products increases. Oppenheimer applied his economic and political theories to the analysis of the situation in Germany at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century. In Germany, large feudal landowners (Junkers) owned almost all the land. As these landowners appropriated all the benefits of increasing the prices of agricultural products and reducing the prices of industrial products, the rural population moved even more en masse to cities or overseas countries.
American sociologist Charles Galpin is one of the founders of rural sociology. He organized field research on social trends and living conditions in rural areas. The results of this research are presented in the book The Social Anatomy of an Agricultural Community (1915). Galpin coined the term "rurban" to better explain the relationship between rural and urban areas. With this concept, he wanted to point out the fact that communities are rarely purely rural or urban, but usually, within a larger rural community, there is a local urban center where people from rural areas perform various activities every day.
American sociologist Everett Rogers is best known for his work in rural sociology and for the theory he presented in his book Diffusion of Innovation (1962), which has been published in four other supplemented editions. His theory of the diffusion of innovation explains the process by which innovation spreads from the moment it is created, until the moment it becomes fully accepted. Rogers has researched the processes and contextual factors that influence the speed of adoption or rejection of innovations, especially in agriculture.
He introduced two new categories - early and late adopters. The focus was on the spread of commercial innovation in the modern age, so a lot of attention was paid to the commercialization and advertising of innovations. The center adopts innovations faster than the periphery. Rogers developed a two-step communication theory to explain how information about innovation spreads. At the first level, information about the innovation is created, as well as advertising materials about it. At the second level, people in charge of product promotion go to targeted communities and approach those who are considered potential buyers of innovation. The promoters then offer free product testing to those who are targeted. Finally, these early adopters of innovation influence their acquaintances to adopt the innovation as well.
Rogers concluded that the adoption of innovations over time has a standard variation (Bell curve). He singled out five types of technology adopters, in relation to the chronology of innovation acceptance: innovators (2.5%), early adopters (13.5%), early majority (34%), late majority (34%), and laggards (16 %). Rogers later applied his theory of innovation and communication to the areas of family planning, media expansion, and cancer prevention. The fifth edition of Diffusion of Innovation (2003, with Nancy Singer Olaguera) explores how the Internet spread, changes in communication, and the spread of ideas that it has brought.
Albrecht, Don E., and Steve H. Murdock. The Sociology of U.S. Agriculture: An Ecological Perspective (1990);
Buttel, Frederick H., Olaf F. Larson, and Gilbert W. Gillespie Jr. The Sociology of Agriculture (1990);
Boserup. The Conditions of Agricultural Growth: the Economics of Agrarian Change Under Population Pressure (1965);
Engels: The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State (2010, in German 1884);
Galpin: The Social Anatomy of an Agricultural Community (1915);
Gellner: Plough, Sword and the Book: The Structure of Human History (1988);
Lenski. Ecological-Evolutionary Theory (2006);
Moor: Social Origins of Democracy and Dictatorship: Lord and Peasant in the Making of the Modern World (1966);
Oppenheimer. Versuch einer positiven Überwindung des Kommunismus durch Lösung des Genossenschaftsproblems und der Agrarfrage (1896);
Prebisch. The Economic Development of Latin America and Its Principal Problems (1950);
Wallerstein. The Modern World System, Vol. 1 (1974);
White, William Foote. Organizing for Agricultural Development (1975);
Wittfogel. The Hydraulic Civilizations (1956);
Wolf. Peasants (1966);