Panel proposal for SAS, CAA, and SEA

I would like to organize a panel for the 2018 AAA meetings on peasant household efficiency: How we know and what it means.

By “peasant” I mean a family producing for their own consumption as well as exchange. Most peasant families are engaged in agriculture, but peasant communities also commonly include craftsman, fisherman, and people engaged in animal husbandry. In this sense, most of the world’s farmland is still operated by peasants, and they still produce most of the food that the human population consumes.

Esther Boserup established that the seemingly most primitive systems of agriculture are actually also the most energy-efficient in terms of calorie output in food compared to human energy input. Traditional systems of production also tend to be more environmentally sustainable than systems of production that use fossil fuels as a source of energy, manufactured fertilizers and insecticide.

The topic I would like the panel to focus on is the kind of thinking that produces these efficiencies. I have described what I call a physical farm budget that can be represented by a spreadsheet.  The observed efficiencies are attained by households copying each other.  This sets in motion the logic of the hill-climbing algorithm. Others may have found the same thing in different forms, or different things.

The topic is of crucial importance for the growing environmental crisis.  The solution must involve keeping more people on the land and producing more anymore sustainable ways. In order to do this we must understand the kind of thing that sustainable production involves.

The topic is also important for anthropological theory and method. People have to eat.  We should explain how they do this. We cannot have a science of humanity without doing so. So contributing to this explanation seems to me to be a good way to demonstrate what the various sections of the AAA that are concerned with developing anthropology has a science can contribute to this common goal.

It would be especially nice if we could jointly sponsor it between Society for Anthropological Sciences, Culture and Agriculture, and the Society for Economic Anthropology.

The deadline for proposals is Monday, April 16, 2 PM Eastern time.   At that time we have to have everybody registered, an abstract submitted for the panel, and I think abstracts or at least titles for the papers.

If you are interested, please let me know as quickly as possible. People can always drop out afterwards and individual papers that have been submitted by the deadline can be moved into the panel.

Murray Leaf