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  The meaning of plantation has changed over time. Originally a plot of ground with trees, it came to mean a group of settlers or their political units during British overseas expansion (e.g. the Ulster Plantation; see colonialism). Later, plantation came to mean a large farm or landed estate especially associated with tropical or subtropical production of \'classical\' plantation crops such as sugar, coffee, tobacco, tea, cocoa, bananas, spices, cotton, sisal, rubber and palm oil (Thompson, 1975; see farming, type of). Most plantations combined an agricultural with an industrial process but technologies, labour processes, property rights and infrastructure have varied enormously across space and time making a generic definition of plantation impossible (see agribusiness). Plantations have witnessed historical transformations in labour relations between slave, feudal, migratory, indentured and free wage labour, and many plantations in Latin America operated on a mixture of these labour forms (see labour process).

All definitions of plantation tend to differentiate it from other agricultural forms of production by size, authority structure, crop or labour force characteristics (low skills, work gangs, various forms of servility). The theory of plantations has a long lineage that can be traced back to David Ricardo and John Stuart Mill in the nineteenth century through to H.J. Nieboer and Edgar Thompson in the twentieth. An important distinction has been made between old and new style plantations in which the former (e.g. the hacienda in Central America) were essentially pre-capitalist with surpluses directed at conspicuous consumption, while the latter were capitalist enterprises driven by the rigours of capitalist accumulation (see feudalism and capitalism).

Recent work has seen plantations as \'totalizing institutions\' whose historical connections with racism and slavery have fundamentally shaped entire social and political structures (as in the Caribbean and the US South) but have also acted as powerful agents of underdevelopment. Plantations and plantation economies and societies cannot be understood in terms of the narrow logic of production of the enterprise alone, however. The enormously diverse forms and circumstances in which the plantation has persisted and transformed itself must be rooted in the historical forms and rhythms of capitalist accumulation under specific land, labour and capital markets. (MW)

References Beckford, G. 1972: Persistent poverty: underdevelopment in plantation economies of the Third World. London: Oxford University Press. Thompson, E. 1983: Plantation society, Durham: Duke University Press.



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