A Revolution in Labour

  • R. E. Elson
Part of the A Modern Economic History of Southeast Asia book series


The distinguishing feature of the organisation of peasant labour around 1800 was its highly personal and informal cast. Within the village itself, many agricultural tasks and other work associated with agriculture were performed not by individual peasants alone, nor even by their households, but by larger horizontally-ordered groups formed within the village to carry out cooperative labour. In lowland rice agriculture, for example, the job of transplanting rice seedlings into a household holding or harvesting the mature crop had to be performed rapidly, and required the services of more workers than a single household itself could provide. Similarly, in swidden agriculture, planting was often done by larger work groups to ensure its rapid completion. Labour relations between village and supra-village authorities were mediated through vertical and personalised chains of leaders and followers; through them, the state laid obligations upon peasants to perform unpaid compulsory labour services, ranging from collecting forest produce to road and bridge building, as well as the construction and maintenance of water works. Outside the formal state sphere, the wealthy and influential enjoyed the services of their slaves and those bonded to them through debt.


Female Labour Green Revolution Wage Labour Wage Work Landless Labourer 
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© R. E. Elson 1997

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  • R. E. Elson

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