Farewell to peasantry? : (Post)modernising rural Mexico - The case of the ejido peasants in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec

Sammanfattning: The thesis deals with a classical issue, that of the fate of the peasantry, in particular the process of the transformation of the peasantry. The aim is to explore whether there is a place for the smallholding peasantry in the future, or if the process of dissolution is inevitable. The discussion of this broad question is approached by first deconstructing the peasantry into economic actors and sociopolitical actors so as to understand their livelihood, actions, thinking and projects, and then by reconstructing the peasantry as we see them in contemporary times in a specific region. First, the relationship between the state and the peasantry is described in a Mexican context, and the peasantry’s responses to state rural development projects in times of liberalisation are identified. The political dimension of the peasantry is then explored. Finally, I present my interpretation of an alternative project for rural modernisation that is emerging among the ejido peasants in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. The theoretical approach is interdisciplinary and includes political economy, radical human geography and postmodernist perspectives. Concepts of modernity and postmodernity are discussed in connection with the peasants in the Isthmus to highlight the complexity of that social reality with emphasis on the analytical categories of class, ethnicity, gender and sustainability. The theoretical framework is generated from the data constructed through the fieldwork, and both theories and data have been subjected to continuous inquiry. Hence, the methodology used here is based on grounded theory. The thesis places great importance on the empirical material, but claims that theory construction cannot be separated from data since it is an iterative process where the researcher is moving continuously between the conceptual and the empirical world. Theory and the empirical material combine so as to construct a conceptual model that describes and interprets the peasants comprehensively. The methods used are semistructured interviews, in-depth interviews, participant observation and archive studies. The voices of the peasants are interpreted by the author and presented as portraits or quotations, using the procedures and techniques of qualitative research when constructing, coding, analysing and presenting the information. A total of 135 semistructured interviews were undertaking in 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2001 in six ejidos in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. The concluding remarks outlined in Chapter Seven present three scenarios for the outcome for these ejido peasants where their fate is approached through their own visions, fears and expectations expressed in their own words. The scenarios are not clear-cut. There is no single answer to the central question. Depeasantisation is an unpredictable and complex process and, most of all, it is an issue that should be approached empirically and contextually.

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