Wednesday, January 27, 2016

A Deagrarianization Take on Gender Relations

Many thanks for bringing the debate on gender and agrarian relations to the fore. Just a few thoughts on what has been written.

I would agree that Shivji's abstract theoretical analysis fits the colonial period when rural men migrated to plantations and mines or produced cash crops in situ and rural women were ordained to stay at the homestead producing subsistence crops, giving birth and raising children. But that neat split in the gender division of labour is no longer prevalent. During the 1950s-1970s men's migration to plantations and mines largely faded away. From the 1980s, when the terms of trade for peasant agriculture plummeted in the wake of the global oil crisis, men started losing their role as agricultural export crop producers. They, as well as women and youth, entered the 'scramble in Africa', searching for viable forms of income-earning. For youth, urban migration became ever more prevalent. This came out in the survey work I've done with colleagues in Tanzania and indeed a similar pattern was found to prevail in the other African countries that we researched [Bryceson and Jamal (1997) Farewell to Farms; Bryceson, Kay and Mooij (2000) Disappearing Peasantries?; Bryceson and Bank (2001) Livelihoods, Linkages and Policy Paradoxes; Bryceson (2010) How Africa Works].

I would argue these transformative processes largely undermined the existence of the Tanzanian peasantry (as per my article that you circulated). What's left is an ageing countryside and an inchoate 'precariat' (male and female) who diversify their work activities according to the constraints and opportunities that they encounter. Rural men's and women's relationship to capital is largely the same - they exist, in the Marxist sense, as a 'reserve army of labour' for capital - except that these days labour is in super-abundance. It's long passed the time when the colonial assumption of an acute labour shortage held and a so-called backward sloping supply curve was believed to exist. As for what happens within the home, households are far less coherent socially and materially. Unlike peasant households where there was a clear complementary division of labour amongst family members to generate subsistence and commodified household production, households are now far more fluid in composition. Individual members often earn on their own account, rather than pool their income into a household purse. The notion of a male breadwinner lingers on primarily in some men's imagination. Women, however, remain the central 'reproducers' not only in terms of having babies, but caring for children and doing daily domestic labour. My view is that yes this is exploitation of women by men, but it's also usually a choice on the part of the women themselves and in effect it is their labour of love. They would not be able to tolerate the low standards of housework and childcare that most men haphazardly provide, if they are enlightened enough to try to tackle housework. Sorry if I sound like a female chauvinist!

Above all, I very much agree with you that empirical research is vital to knowing and understanding what's going on. With a foundational analytical grounding, the theory can follow from there. So much has happened over the last half century. It must be documented, published and widely disseminated. Tanzania is such a complex country and the more case studies and broader surveys that are done the better. But if the data stays in report form rather than more readable publications and other accessible forms of analytical communication, we will miss what is happening and the nature of on-going change will elude us.


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