Presenting Research Outcome on Reevaluation of Peasantry at the 66th General Assembly of the Japanese Association for Rural Studies

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Steven McGreevy, FEAST Project Leader, together with Mr. Naoya Matsudaira, our project member, joined “the 66th General Assembly of the Japanese Association for Rural Studies” in Takachiho in Miyazaki Pref. from October 26th to 28th, 2018, at which they had an opportunity to present their research entitled “the international and Japanese trends of reevaluations of peasantry: the similarities and differences”.

<Abstract>

The United Nations General Assembly 2017 highlighted the importance of family farming, which produces approximately 80% of food on this planet and officially declared “the Decade of Family Farming” from 2019 to 2028. However, whether family farming can survive in the years to come still remains uncertain, and the prevalence of family farming and peasant livelihood/lifestyle is on the decrease. This report focuses firstly on “new peasantries,” which have been gaining momentum as one of focal points of discussion on rural development and sustainable development, and explores the literature on peasants and peasantries outside of Japan and trends that dominate discussion. Research on peasants globally tends to be linked to the contexts of both developing and developed countries. This research, however, will look at the definition and framework of peasants in EU and USA in particular and compare them to those in Japan. We are yet to holistically examine the literature on peasant theory, but try to explore the analytical framework, which is most widely used by rural sociologists abroad, and consequently contribute to better understanding rural revitalization and sustainable development (Van der Ploeg & Renting 2004, Van der Ploeg 2008).

In terms of the analytical framework of peasant studies abroad, particular attention is paid to rural revitalization strategies that are linked to three different types of farming modes: peasant, entrepreneurial and capitalist modes. Farming modes highlight how the peasant mode of farming differs from other modes of farming, in that it pursues autonomy, co-production between humans and nature, the multifaceted use of both endogenous and exogenous resources to create “new wealth,” in the long term, retaining that wealth.

On the one hand, while neo-liberal agricultural policy to accelerate expanding and corporatizing agriculture is being promoted in Japan, the “peasantry” has emerged as an opposing concept against this neo-liberal trend, as is evident by the founding of the “Shounou Gakkai (Peasant Studies Society)” (Shounou Gakkai 2016). In post-war Japan, peasants have been downgraded as an object and agent to conquer or do away with in the field of peasant studies and policy. One of the main characteristics as represented by Shounou Gakkai and other like-minded organizations is to positively evaluate the multifaceted roles that peasants play, which shares common ground with peasant theory abroad. On the other hand, the ways in which the peasantry is framed in relation to other modes of farming and peasant evaluation is linked to concepts such as mura (village) and shuraku (settlement), both of which have a long history of development and distinguishes Japanese scholarship on peasants from other discourses abroad.

This research examines the theoretical and historical trajectories that characterize the evaluation of peasants in Japan and in other countries and compares them. Similarities were found that various forms of autonomy from capitalism and diversity of farming both in Japan and other countries do exist, and the peasantry has emerged as the opposing force to the globalization of the agrifood system. At the same time, it was found that different forms of peasants have emerged due to the complexity of peasantry, even though they may face similar situations globally.

(The original abstract was written in Japanese. Translated by Yuko K.)