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  • Print publication year: 1978
  • Online publication date: May 2010

1 - Introduction: patterns of agrarian capitalism in Latin America


The development of capitalist agriculture has had a wide variety of effects upon pre-existing agrarian societies in Latin America. The forms it has assumed have in part been determined by variations in such factors as climate, ecology, demographic structure and history, ethnic patterns, and land tenure. The central theme of this volume is that such variations, whilst important in explaining localized phenomena, should essentially be seen as aspects of a basic process of change from one mode of production to another in the rural sector.

This is not of course a new idea, and indeed a number of writers, especially in the fields of economic history and social anthropology, have already dealt with many of the questions of particular relevance to the theme of this volume. Broadly speaking, their various approaches can be divided into three different levels of generalization. First, there are those works principally concerned with identifying the general mode of production in contemporary Latin American agriculture, in which the argument has centred around the question of whether the social organization of agriculture is essentially feudal or capitalist. Secondly, there is a more limited amount of theoretical discussion relating to the different types of agricultural enterprise to be found in Latin America, in which the principal distinction is drawn between the hacienda and the plantation. Finally, there is a very considerable body of literature dealing with types of peasantry and rural labour, where discussion concentrates upon the role-structure of rural economic life.