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Manufacturing dissent: work, gender and the politics of meaning in a peasant society

Abstract
Introduction: The Manufacturing of Dissent

This article addresses the changing nature of farm work in a peasant society in The Gambia, West Africa. The practice of farm labour has been transformed in the most palpable way by the advent of radically new technical and social relations of production associated with mechanised double-cropping of irrigated rice. Technical change, agricultural intensification and a new labour process are, however, all built upon the bedrock of household production, since peasant growers are socially integrated into the new scheme as contract farmers, specifically as contracted sharecroppers. Family labour continues to be the dominant social form in which labour power is mobilised, but under conditions directly determined and shaped by the contractors, namely project management. Irrigated double-cropping of rice production is particularly labour-demanding and makes expanded claims on customary structures of domestic labour recruitment. These new economic practices subject the culturally dominant representations of work, labour obligations and property rights—the constituents of custom and tradition— to the test of social practice. In our examination of Mandinka rice growers we suggest, following T. J. Clark, that ‘society is a battlefield of representations on which the limits and coherence of any given set are being fought for and regularly spoilt’ (Clark, 1984: 6). The introduction of a new production regime has converted rural Mandinka society into a contested social terrain; the primary struggle is a contest over gender and the conjugal contract in which property, or more accurately constellations of property rights, is at stake. By seeing economic life as, among other things, a realm of representations, we argue that the struggles over meaning and the manufacture of symbolic and material dissent in central Gambia—a proliferation of intrahousehold conflicts, juridical battles over divorce in the local courts, renegotiations of the conjugal contract—are the idioms of what Burawoy (1985) calls production politics.

Résumé

Désaccord au niveau de la production: ravaux, famille et politiques au sein d'une société paysanne

L'article se penche sur le caractère en pleine mutation des travaux à la ferme dans une société paysanne de la Gambie. Le travail à la ferme a été transformé par l'arrivée des techniques tout à fait nouvelles et par une modification des relations sociales de production en raison de l'émergence de la culture associée mécanisée dans des rizières irriguées. La culture associée irriguée en matière de production de riz demande beaucoup de travail et par conséquent elle constitue un fardeau supplémentaire pour le foyer, désormais considéré comme une source de main d'oeuvre. Mais c'est entre hommes et femmes que se livre le principal combat, au niveau des droits de propriété des terres; cette lutte se traduit par des conflits d'ordre domestique, des batailles juridiques en cas de divorce et la renégociation du contrat de mariage. L'article examine les politiques au sein des foyers d'une rizière de Jahaly-Pacharr, et passe également en revue les résultats médiocres des programmes de cultures irriguées gambiens au cours des quarante dernières années.

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P. Bourdieu 1985. ‘The social space and the genesis of groups’, Theory and Society, 14 (6): 723–44.

J. von Braun , and P. Webb 1989. ‘The impacts of a new crop technology on the agricultural division of labour in a West African setting’, Economic Development and Cultural Change, 37 (3): 513–34.

J. Carney 1988. ‘Struggles over crop rights within contract farming households in a Gambian irrigated rice project’, Journal of Peasant Studies, 15 (3): 334–49.

J. Dey 1981. ‘Gambian women: unequal partners in rice development projects’, Journal of Development Studies, 17(3): 109–22.

J. Dey 1982. ‘Development planning in The Gambia: the gap between planners' and farmers' perceptions, expectations and objectives’, World Development, 10 (5): 377–96.

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D. Lehmann 1986. ‘Sharecropping and capitalist transition in agriculture’, Journal of Development Economics, 23: 333–54.

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M. Wells 1984. ‘The resurgence of sharecropping: historical anomaly or political strategy?’, American Journal of Sociology, 90: 129.

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Africa
  • ISSN: 0001-9720
  • EISSN: 1750-0184
  • URL: /core/journals/africa
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