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agricultural involution

  A term coined by Geertz (1963) to describe the over-elaboration of labour-intensive methods of agricultural production. Under conditions of population pressure, agricultural output is maintained by increasing the input of labour, so that while output per hectare rises output per capita remains the same. No new methods are introduced, as known methods of production are endlessly elaborated and intensified, while social and economic structures also remain unchanged. This leads to a vicious circle, since there is little incentive for technological innovation in the agricultural sector which could raise output per capita.

Geertz developed his model in a study of the impact of colonialism on Java, where he identified a dual economy: an agricultural sector impoverished through agricultural involution, while in the industrial sector labour productivity continued to grow in response to capital investment. He found a \'sharing of poverty\' in the agricultural sector, in that access to land and the opportunities for wage work were shared out, whereas inequality increased in the industrial sector .

Although White (1982) has argued that \'there is room for doubt whether involution and shared poverty as Geertz defined them were ever adequate characterizations of the political economy of Javanese village life\', the generalized notion of agricultural involution is a useful ecological model which counters the more optimistic Boserup thesis on the relationship between population growth and agrarian change. (See also the use of involution in writings on protoindustrialization.) (MO)

References Geertz, C. 1963: Agricultural involution: the process of ecological change in Indonesia. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. White, B. 1982: Population, involution and employment in rural Java. In J. Harriss, ed., Rural development: theories of peasant economy and agrarian change. London: Hutchinson Library for Africa.

Suggested Reading Harriss, J., ed., 1982: Rural development: theories of peasant economy and agrarian change. London: Hutchinson Library for Africa.



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