African Journal of
History and Culture

  • Abbreviation: Afr. J. Hist. Cult.
  • Language: English
  • ISSN: 2141-6672
  • DOI: 10.5897/AJHC
  • Start Year: 2009
  • Published Articles: 191


Prosperity, penury and polarization: Disaggregating the peasantry in the historiography of colonial Zimbabwe

Gary Blank
  • Gary Blank
  • Department of International History, London School of Economics and Political Science, UK
  • Google Scholar

  •  Received: 13 February 2012
  •  Accepted: 01 December 2014
  •  Published: 31 January 2015


Underdevelopment and modernization theorists have long agreed that peasant agriculture was not universally damaged and curtailed, but the two schools remain very much at odds over the general trajectory of peasant agriculture during the colonial period. This dichotomy, however, is unwarranted. In the canonical literature there is a pervasive ambiguity surrounding the term “peasant,” an ambiguity that allows for contradictory assessments of the same historical process. An historical approach that “disaggregates” the peasantry along ethnic, geographic, gender, and class lines demonstrates that there was not a homogeneous Zimbabwean peasant experience during the colonial period, but several. Thus, there need not be any formal contradiction between the observations of the underdevelopment and modernization schools. Theorists from both sides have approached the peasant question with differing ideological precepts, and therefore assessed the same phenomenon in completely divergent ways. In short, Zimbabwean peasants experienced both penury and prosperity in the course of colonial rule.

Key words: Modernization, dependency, underdevelopment, colonial Zimbabwe, peasantry.