SOAS University of London

Department of Development Studies

Agrarian Change and Development

Research Aims, Themes and Activities

SOAS has long had a major international reputation in agrarian political economy, centred in the departments of Development Studies and Economics.

This research cluster encourages investigation of the social relations and dynamics of production, property and power in agrarian formations and their processes of change, both historical and contemporary. It works within a broad interdisciplinary framework, informed by theory, and generates rigorous comparative analysis and scholarly debate on agrarian structures and change, past and present, in different parts of the world. Some key cross-cutting issues include labour struggles and resistance, land reform, gender relations and the intended and unintended consequences of capitalist globalisation on ‘peasantries’ in the developing world. There are therefore some important linkages with the other research clusters in the Department.

This cluster benefits from hosting the Journal of Agrarian Change (JAC), founded by Henry Bernstein and Terry Byres in 2001 (both former editors of  and, in the case of Prof. Byres, founder of the Journal of Peasant Studies), now edited by three SOAS academics (Deborah Johnston, Jens Lerche and Carlos Oya) and Cristóbal Kay from ISS (The Hague, Netherlands). JAC has established itself as the leading journal of agrarian political economy with a very high impact factor of 2.0, placing among top journals in the Planning and Development field, for example. The Journal produces four issues each year, with contributions dedicated to the study of agrarian political economy and a commitment to rigorous empirical work. For more information, visit the JAC webpage.

Aside from the production of JAC, the editors have also engaged in initiatives that we hope will lead to new and exciting future publications.  In May 2008, we held a workshop and conference entitled ‘Agrarian questions: lineages and prospects’, which brought together a range of scholars representing the gamut of approaches and research in the field of the political economy of agrarian change. Many of these scholars are members of the international advisory board of JAC. Moreover, another core activity of this cluster is the Agrarian Change seminar series organised at SOAS, with contributions from a variety of guest scholars and attracting a lively audience each year.  This seminar revives the great SOAS heritage of the 1970s Peasants Seminar then established and convened by T.J.Byres.

Current research interests and activity within this cluster focus on:
  • Land reform and land struggles
  • Agrarian/rural accumulation and rural class formation: agrarian classes of capital
  • Agrarian classes of labour
  • Rural labour markets and poverty
  • Rural poverty, labour and gender
  • Famine, food security and mobility
  • Global commodity chains and agrarian change

This research has particular geographic concentration in sub-Saharan Africa (West and Southern Africa – South Africa, Mozambique, Senegal, Mauritania, Tanzania, Uganda and Ethiopia), Central Asia (Uzbekistan), and India.

Cross-cutting issues link this cluster with other research clusters in the Department, notably with the VCD and Globalisation groups as well as the Labour cluster, with particular reference to (a) the agrarian roots of conflict and violence, historically and in contemporary developing countries; and (b) neoliberal globalisation and the ‘integration’ of agrarian classes of labour and capital in global agro-food regimes as well as the impact of various forms of agricultural market liberalisation.