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  A social category that includes households constituted by persons who are both peasants and wage-workers. Typically peasant-workers appear in the literature as part-time farmers, cottage industrialists, outworkers or simply as day labourers. The distinctiveness of peasant-workers, often classified as either peasants or workers, resides in the fact that they are both, simultaneously and serially. In the face of industrial capitalism, peasant households are invariably drawn into a multiplicity of wage work (proletarianization) which may include migration, local farm work, or working for industrial firms. But the process of proletarianization is discontinuous, ragged and often incomplete, with the result that many farming families are simultaneously involved in industrial wage work.

The contradictions between property and the wage relation are contained within the household, which gives the peasant-workers their social coherence and cultural character. Holmes (1987) shows in the case of northern Italy, for example, how peasant-workers represent a complex and politically distinct segment of Italian society which draws upon both the traditions of small-scale cultivation, indigenous Catholicism and the Weberian world of industrial wage work. Increasing mobility of transnational capital has contributed to the proliferation of industrial enterprises in Third World rural locations (for example electronics sub-assembly in Indonesia or agro-food processing in Kenya) with the result that peasants (often young and female) are drawn into industrial wage work. Wolf (1990) has shown how young Javanese peasant girls working in rural electronics plants face struggles and conflicts within the household over gender and personal autonomy as their wage packet begins to represent a significant proportion of household income. The contradiction and tensions between two different forms of political and cultural economy — the household enterprises and industrial wage work — often play themselves out within cultural arenas, and this is a unique aspect of what Holmes (1987) calls the liminal, transitional and phantom aspects of the lived experiences of worker-peasants. (MW)

References Holmes, D. 1987: Cultural disenchantments. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Wolf, D. 1990: Factory daughters. Berkeley: University of California Press.



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