Research Article

Manufacturing dissent: work, gender and the politics of meaning in a peasant society

Judith Carney and Michael Watts

Introduction: The Manufacturing of Dissent

This article addresses the changing nature of farm work in a peasant society in The Gambia, West Africa. The practice of farm labour has been transformed in the most palpable way by the advent of radically new technical and social relations of production associated with mechanised double-cropping of irrigated rice. Technical change, agricultural intensification and a new labour process are, however, all built upon the bedrock of household production, since peasant growers are socially integrated into the new scheme as contract farmers, specifically as contracted sharecroppers. Family labour continues to be the dominant social form in which labour power is mobilised, but under conditions directly determined and shaped by the contractors, namely project management. Irrigated double-cropping of rice production is particularly labour-demanding and makes expanded claims on customary structures of domestic labour recruitment. These new economic practices subject the culturally dominant representations of work, labour obligations and property rights—the constituents of custom and tradition— to the test of social practice. In our examination of Mandinka rice growers we suggest, following T. J. Clark, that ‘society is a battlefield of representations on which the limits and coherence of any given set are being fought for and regularly spoilt’ (Clark, 1984: 6). The introduction of a new production regime has converted rural Mandinka society into a contested social terrain; the primary struggle is a contest over gender and the conjugal contract in which property, or more accurately constellations of property rights, is at stake. By seeing economic life as, among other things, a realm of representations, we argue that the struggles over meaning and the manufacture of symbolic and material dissent in central Gambia—a proliferation of intrahousehold conflicts, juridical battles over divorce in the local courts, renegotiations of the conjugal contract—are the idioms of what Burawoy (1985) calls production politics.


Désaccord au niveau de la production: ravaux, famille et politiques au sein d'une société paysanne

L'article se penche sur le caractère en pleine mutation des travaux à la ferme dans une société paysanne de la Gambie. Le travail à la ferme a été transformé par l'arrivée des techniques tout à fait nouvelles et par une modification des relations sociales de production en raison de l'émergence de la culture associée mécanisée dans des rizières irriguées. La culture associée irriguée en matière de production de riz demande beaucoup de travail et par conséquent elle constitue un fardeau supplémentaire pour le foyer, désormais considéré comme une source de main d'oeuvre. Mais c'est entre hommes et femmes que se livre le principal combat, au niveau des droits de propriété des terres; cette lutte se traduit par des conflits d'ordre domestique, des batailles juridiques en cas de divorce et la renégociation du contrat de mariage. L'article examine les politiques au sein des foyers d'une rizière de Jahaly-Pacharr, et passe également en revue les résultats médiocres des programmes de cultures irriguées gambiens au cours des quarante dernières années.

Judith Carney teaches at the Department of Geography, University of California, Los Angeles; she received her PhD in 1986 for a dissertation on Cambian rice production.

Michael Watts is a Professor of Geography at the Berkeley campus of the University of California. His study of farming and famine in Northern Nigeria, Silent Violence, was published in 1983.