Agrarian Change and Development Cluster

Aims and themes

The Department of Development Studies, together with the Department of Economics, have a long tradition of heterodox political economy work on agrarian change.

Many current and past staff members are recognised scholars in agrarian studies, often contributing to some of the main debates in the field: the role of agriculture in development processes; capitalist development and agrarian transitions; rural labour markets and poverty; globalisation and agrarian change; land dispossession; movements of agrarian resistance; dynamics of agrarian accumulation in the neoliberal order; rural migration among other questions.

The cluster's remit has expanded the range of themes as new colleagues and PhD students join our vibrant academic community, contributing to debates on agrarian change and racial capitalism, as well as the processes connecting capitalist agrarian transformations and the environment, class, caste and ethnicity.

Currently priority research themes include:

  • Agrarian accumulation dynamics
  • Agrarian transitions and questions of capital and labour
  • Class, race and caste relations in agrarian transitions
  • Agrarian transformations and the industrialisation of freshness

Our research reflects the department’s disciplinary diversity, drawing on political economy, geography, politics, sociology, anthropology and economics. We have expertise in Africa, Asia, Middle East, and Europe. Our research aims for policy relevance and impact, and we have worked with a range of organisations and practitioners from the World Bank to the FAO, governments, and grassroots collectives.

The research cluster on agrarian change has a longstanding link with the leading journal of agrarian political economy, Journal of Agrarian Change, which was founded in 2001 by SOAS academics Terry Byres and Henry Bernstein. Jens Lerche and Carlos Oya are co-editors of the journal. The journal has an open web forum at, where several activities connected to the Department research cluster are announced.

Selected recent publications

  • Cramer, C., J. Di John, and J. Sender (2022). "Classification and Roundabout Production in High‐value Agriculture: A Fresh Approach to Industrialization" Development and Change, 53 (3). pp. 495-524.
  • Graf, S. L. and C. Oya (2021). "Is the system of rice intensification (SRI) pro poor? Labour, class and technological change in West Africa" Agricultural Systems (193), 103229
  • Lerche, J. and A. Shah (2018) "Conjugated oppression within contemporary capitalism: class, caste, tribe and agrarian change in India" Journal of Peasant Studies, 45 (5-6). pp. 927-949.
  • Mollinga, P. (2020) "Knowledge, context and problemsheds: a critical realist method for interdisciplinary water studies" Water International45(5), 388-415.
  • Oya, Carlos, F. Schaefer, and D. Skalidou, (2018). "The effectiveness of agricultural certification in developing countries: a systematic review" World Development, 112. pp. 282-312.
  • Pattenden, J., Campling, L., Castañón Ballivián, E., Gras, C., Lerche, J., O'Laughlin, B., Oya, C., Pérez Niño, H. and Sinha, S. (2021) "Introduction: Covid‐19 and the conditions and struggles of agrarian classes of labour" Journal of Agrarian Change, 21 (3). pp. 582-590.
  • Pérez Niño, H. and C. Oya (2021). "Contract Farming" In: Akram-Lodhi, A.H., (eds.), Dietz, K., (eds.), Engels, Bettina, (eds.) and McKay, B.M., (eds.), Handbook of Critical Agrarian Studies. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, pp 417-426.
  • Sender, J. and C. Cramer (2021) "Desperate, deceived and disappointed: women’s lives and labour in rural Ethiopia and Uganda" Journal of Contemporary African Studies, 40 (2). pp. 153-171.
  • Shah, A. and J. Lerche (2020) "Migration and the Invisible Economies of Care: Production, social reproduction and seasonal migrant labour in India" Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 45 (4). pp. 719-734.
  • Tilley, Lisa (2021) "Extractive investibility in historical colonial perspective: the emerging market and its antecedents in Indonesia" Review of International Political Economy, 28 (5). pp. 1099-1118.
  • Tilley, Lisa (2020) "'A Strange Industrial Order:' Indonesia’s Racialized Plantation Ecologies and Anticolonial Estate Worker Rebellions" History of the Present, 10 (1). pp. 67-83.
  • Lerche, Jens, 2021. "The farm laws struggle 2020–2021: class-caste alliances and bypassed agrarian transition in neoliberal India". The Journal of Peasant Studies 48 (7): 1380-1396, DOI: 10.1080/03066150.2021.1986013 
  • Swaminathan, M, Nagbhushan, S and Ramachandran, VK, (eds.)(2020), "Women and Work in Rural India", Tulika Books, Cambridge University Press, New Delhi
  • Swaminathan,M and Nagbhushan,S, (2022) "Wealth Inequality: Evidence from Two Villages in Bihar", Vol. 12, Issue 1, Review of Agrarian Studies

Knowledge Exchange highlights

Members of the research cluster are actively involved in research knowledge exchange activities through a range of modalities, targeting different audiences. Examples include: Professor Cramer’s work on the industrialisation of freshness for the Department of Trade and Industry in South Africa, and advisory role in the process of coffee sector reforms in Ethiopia; Professor Oya’s support to the FAO for the measurement of decent work in agrarian settings and contributions to review of the evidence of the impact of agricultural certification for different organisations (ISEAL, Fairtrade).

Examples of completed PhDs

  • Agribusiness, class and ethnicity: dynamics of agrarian change in eastern lowland Bolivia, 1980-2018 (Enrique Castañón Ballivian, 2021)
  • Capitalist Agrarian Change in Indonesia: Class, Production and Reproduction (Muchtar Habibi, 2020)
  • Contemporary Land Rush, And Dynamics of Agrarian Change In Senegal (2006-2017) (Rama Salla Dieng, 2019)
  • Agrarian Accumulation in Liberalised India: A Study of Capitalist Farmers in Punjab (Shreya Sinha, 2018)
  • Revisiting the agrarian question: coffee, flowers and Ethiopia's new capitalists (Florian Tomas Schäfer, 2017)
  • Post-conflict Agrarian Change in Angonia: Land, Labour and the Organization of Production in the Mozambique-Malawi Border land (Helena Pérez-Niño, 2015)
  • Food Sovereignty and the Via Campesina in Mexico and Ecuador: Class Dynamics, Struggles for Autonomy and the Politics of Resistance (Thomas Paul Henderson, 2015)
  • The EU-centred commodity chain in canned tuna and upgrading in Seychelles (Liam Campling, 2012)
  • Export grape production and development in north east Brazil (Ben Selwyn, 2007)