Social Scientist. v 12, no. 133 (June 1984) p. 78.

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Sharecropping and Sharecroppers

Sharecropping and Sharecroppers, ed. T.J. Byres, Frank Cass and Co.,. 1983.

MUCH of the recent economic literature on sharecropping has been devoted to a debate within the neo-classical tradition, as to whether and under what conditions the institution is more, less or equally efficient to other forms of cultivation relationship, such as fixed rent systems and wage labour. Although such analyses take as a point of reference Marshall's work which had a broad awareness of history, they have been essentially ahistorical in their approach. They have focussed on .the rational choices and decisions of equal or symmetric economic agents, albeit occasionally within a bargaining-theoretic framework. Counter-posed to such abstract forays, there have been studies of a sociological nature which attempt to locate the forces of tradition behind the institution of sharecropping, and rely on description and classification rather than explanation.

The present volume thus comes as a welcome relief, for the majority of the contributors manage to avoid these twin pitfalls. They attempt to locate the sharecropping relationship in particular socio-historical contexts, and to provide explanations of its nature and dynamics. While the framework of several of the writers could be broadly classified as Marxist, in some of the contributions there is a significant break away from the tradition of treating cropshare rents as evidence of feudal, precapitalist production relations, which would dissolve with the advent of agrarian capitalism. Rather, most of these contributions treat shareropp-ing in a much more general way and see it as compatible with the requirements of capitalist agriculture. The volume is divided into theoretical chapters discussing particular aspects of the sharecropping relation, its determination and implications; and empirical investigations of the phenomenon and its behaviour in particular historical and economic situations.

Byres' opening article provides a brief account of shar^cropping relationships in several ancient civilisations : Greece, China, India. By this means he establishes not only the (unsung) long history and geographical spread of the institution, but also its broad historical continuity and the possibility of its disappearance and reappearance in particular societies over periods of rural change. Some other features which are

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