Peasant Intellectuals: Anthropology and History in Tanzania

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Scholars who study peasant society now realize that peasants are not passive, but quite capable of acting in their own interests. Debate has continued, though, on whether coherent political ideas emerge within peasant society, or whether peasants act in a world where political issues are defined by elites. Based on ethnographic research begun in 1966 that includes interviews with hundreds of people from all levels of Tanzanian society, Peasant Intellectuals aims to alter the perspective from which anthropologists, historians, and political scientists study both cultural systems and rural politics. Steven Feierman gives us the history of the struggles to define the most basic issues of public political discourse in the Shambaa-speaking region of Tanzania. Over the past 150 years ruling chiefs, on the one hand, and dissenting peasants on the other have debated what it is that enables some regimes to bring life rather than death, prosperity rather than hunger, justice rather than inequity. Feierman focuses on the role of peasant intellectuals - men and women who earn their livelihood by farming and who, at crucial historical moments, have organized political movements of the greatest long-term significance. In Shambaii, peasant intellectuals have raised the issue of democracy, the role of chiefs, the meaning of slavery and freedom , and the nature of gender relations, and played a critical role in nationalist campaigns. Feierman also shows that peasant society contains a rich body of alternative sources of political language from which future debates will be shaped.