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The Importance of Agrarian Classes: Agrarian Class Structure and Collective Action in Nineteenth-Century Ireland

Samuel Clark
The British Journal of Sociology
Vol. 29, No. 1 (Mar., 1978), pp. 22-40
DOI: 10.2307/589217
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/589217
Page Count: 19
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The Importance of Agrarian Classes: Agrarian Class Structure and Collective Action in Nineteenth-Century Ireland
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Abstract

The purpose of this paper is to call attention to the importance of class divisions within agrarian populations for understanding agrarian collective action. To illustrate, the author describes agrarian class structure and collective action in Ireland during the nineteenth century. In the early part of the century, there was a social cleavage between occupying tenants and landowners, but there was also a cleavage among occupying tenants themselves. Both types of cleavage had a noticeable effect on the character of collective action. Subsequently, a major transformation in the class structure reduced the intensity of the social cleavage between large and small tenant farmers, and at the same time tenant farmers became numerically the largest social group in the rural society, thus laying the social basis for collective action by this social group. There are two principal arguments made in this paper: first, that agrarian populations are often split into distinguishable social classes, which do not all share the same basis for opposing non-agrarian elites and may even come into conflict with one another; and second, that different agrarian class structures give rise to different kinds of collective action.

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