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Magagna: Communities of grain

Disclaimer. Don't rely on these old notes in lieu of reading the literature, but they can jog your memory. As a grad student long ago, my peers and I collaborated to write and exchange summaries of political science research. I posted them to a wiki-style website. "Wikisum" is now dead but archived here. I cannot vouch for these notes' accuracy, nor can I say who wrote them.

Magagna. 1991. Communities of grain: Rural rebellion in comparative perspective. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.


See my notes on page 47 summarizing the chapter.

Magagna sets up a theory focused on a rural _community_ of agrarians rather than on a class of peasants or on individual peasants. This is a theory of why a _community_ would rebel [a community that happens to be made up of peasants--what matters is the community, not the individual peasants]. Community rebellion depends partly on (1) demographic factors [too much population growth, not enough, etc.], but more importantly on (2) the struggle between the community and external elites [e.g. landed aristocracy] over who can define the community (its rules, membership, limits, etc.).

[more on ch. 2 from handout]:

Magagna uses the concept of community to explain rural rebellion. He sees the community in agrarian societies as an institution of self-regulating rules and norms within a limited area and pertaining to an agrarian population. Rebellion occurs within the framework of supralocal elite [e.g. aristocratic landowners] vs. popular community [i.e. rural community] interaction.

The major dimensions of elite-popular community conflict are as follows: 1) rebellion occurs when the autonomy and cohesion of communities are threatened (usually through infringement on jurisdiction), 2) supralocal elites have a non-reciprocal hierarchical relationship with communities (hence communities cannot punish elites in any manner), 3) benefits rewarded by elites to communities do not outweigh potential for conflict. Under these assumptions Magagna argues that elite-popular community tension occurs in 3 categories of causes: 1) conflict arising from elite claims to absolute rule that threaten jurisdiction rights of the community [e.g. an attempt to impose serfdom], 2) conflict arising from bureaucratic domination during state-building by elites, and 3) conflict arising from top-down compulsory commercialization by elites.

In all categories rural rebellion is a form of "representative violence" through which popular communities, unable to hold elites accountable or protect the autonomy and cohesion of their institutions, use violence as a medium to express their preferences. Magagna uses the concept of community to explain how individuals, tied within a web of overlapping social relationships, participate in collective action that may not be in their immediate interest but has long-term implications for social credibility and relationships within the community.


[from handout]:

The author sets forth nine hypotheses on the results and implications of previous analyses:

1.Weak supralocal representative institutions and uncertain property rights lead to stable redistributive and regulative communities

2.The presence of accountability and supralocal representative institutions leads to residual communities ["residual" means the community is still there, but not really doing anything]

3.Societies dominated by elites unaccountable to popular control (aristocracy/bureaucratic elite) will follow hypothesis 1 rather than 2.

4.Representative violence is "dispositional" in societies of hypothesis 3. The higher the level of elite authoritarianism, the higher the level of representational violence.

5.Representative violence is divided into movements of secession, mostly in societies where commercialization is from above, and movements of reconstitution in societies where commercialization occurs from below.

6.Changes in political relations between elites and communities, rather than economic or technological changes, are the best predictor of the presence or absence of a sustained tradition of rural insurrection.

7.Community cohesion is strongest in societies with ritual practices that serve to identify community problems and solutions.

8.Communities with ongoing rituals of reconciliation that manage intracommunity conflicts are expected to have a higher likelihood of political and economic cohesion

9.Elite traditions of religion and politics are adapted in rural communities only if they reinforce the defense of community autonomy and cohesion.

Research on similar subjects


Magagna, Victor (author)Comparative PoliticsRebellionPeasantsCivil WarClass ConflictParticipation

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