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Henri Lefebvre, open access in Antipode – ‘The Theory of Ground Rent and Rural Sociology’

by Adam David Morton on July 23, 2015
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la-renta-de-la-tierra-5-ensayosReblogged from AntipodeFoundation, hot off the press this week Antipode have something special courtesy of Stuart Elden (University of Warwick) and Adam David Morton (University of Sydney) – a translation (by Warwick’s Matthew Dennis) of Henri Lefebvre’s 1956 essay ‘Théorie de la rente foncière et sociologie rurale’ / ‘The Theory of Ground Rent and Rural Sociology’.

39078-1It was first published in the Transactions of the Third World Congress of Sociology, and later reprinted in Lefebvre’s Du rural à l’urbain (1970/2001). There are two Spanish translations available, in La renta de la tierra (1983) and De lo rural a lo urbano (1971), and this is the first time it has been available in English.

de-lo-rural-a-lo-urbanoAs Stuart and Adam note in their introduction, ‘Thinking Past Henri Lefebvre’, Lefebvre will be known to most geographers for his prodigious work on everyday life, the city / urban society, the production of space, and, increasingly, the state. Less well known is his longstanding interest in questions of the rural. This new translation is the first step in their project to take on a disciplinary reductionism that “essentialises a critique of the political economy of space to urban space at the neglect of the rural-urban dialectic”, opening up new lines of geographical investigation.

du-rural-c3a0-lurbain_2001The Antipode Foundation funded the translation as part of our efforts to facilitate engagement with scholarship from outside the English-speaking world, and Antipode‘s publisher, Wiley, has made it and Stuart and Adam’s introduction freely available to those without subscriptions. In the coming months and years we hope to break down some of the barriers between language communities, enabling hitherto under-represented groups, regions, countries and institutions to enrich conversations and debates in the journal. Watch this space…

Adam David Morton
Adam David Morton is Professor of Political Economy in the Department of Political Economy at the University of Sydney.
1 Comments
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  • Ben Richardson
    July 31, 2015 at 9:19 pm

    Thanks for drawing attention to this project: I really enjoyed reading the Lefebrve piece and accompanying article in Antipode. It brought to mind another piece of writing in the field of Marxian rural sociology, Goodman, Sorj and Wilkinson’s 1987 book From Farming to Biotechnology. They ask similar questions to Lefebrve about the way industrial capital is able to appropriate value from the land – and landowners – in such a way that it reduces the money paid out in ground rent. However, writing three decades later, they also had the chance to comment on the new spatial scales through which this process came to operate, namely the chemical and genetic engineering of farm production; something also touched on by Neil Smith in his afterword to the third edition of Uneven Development.

    Another interesting point hinted at in Lefebrve’s piece is that it is industrial and finance capital that is manifest in the “new social type” of the large capitalist farmer who takes control of and depopulates land, which in contract or customary law, properly belongs to “small- and medium-scale landlords”. As noted in the Morton and Elden article, this clearly connects with “peasant struggles for land and agrarian reform in and beyond Latin America”, and was demonstrated vividly in the wave of rural protests reacting to the ‘global land grab’ which peaked during the late 2000s.

    However, it is not just on the peripheries of capitalism where these questions are relevant. Recent data shows that over the last decade the growth in the price of UK farmland has massively outpaced even prime central London residential prices. The problem for investors is that only 100,000 acres are put up for sale each year, limiting the options to buy. For this reason, new financial services are being created to allow syndicate investors (e.g. ‘high net worth individuals’) to invest in the intensification of existing farming operations – on terms more generous than traditional lenders offer – but still with a targeted net return of 8 per cent partly secured by the assumption of continually rising asset prices. See: http://raconteur.net/sustainability/landing-a-good-investment.

    At first blush this seems to have parallels to the way the UK housing market has developed, and I wonder if a historcisation of ground rent might also be relevant to a rediscovery of Lefebrve’s rural-urban dialectic? Evidently in English law in the early 19th century there were disputes over the precise legal definition of ground rent, which in one landmark case (Stewart vs Alliston) was said by the Plaintiff to be “equally applicable to land already built upon and to land let for the purpose of building”. The judge disagreed and drew a sharp distinction between ground rent and ‘rack rent’. I write this knowing next to nothing about either Lefebrve or land law (!), only a sense that in the popular imagination this divide between the rural/agricultural and urban/industrial-financial seems to persist and could benefit from being dissolved. I look forward to reading the rest of the project and hope it takes my own thinking some way toward this end!

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