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Ester Boserup's theory of agrarian change:a critical review

Progress in Human Geography , Volume 3 (1): 64 – Mar 1, 1979


Sage Publications
Copyright © 1979 by SAGE Publications
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Ester Boserup's theory of agrarian change:a critical review


64 Ester Boserup's theory of agrarian changea critical review SAGE Publications, Inc.1979DOI: 10.1177/030913257900300103 David Grigg University of Sheffield Much has been written on the interrelationships between population change and economic development, and between population growth and food supply. There has however been comparatively little discussion of the effect of population growth upon agriculture-upon land use, technology and land tenure-and for the most part it has been assumed that the consequences are adverse, giving rise to overpopulation: the subdivision and fragmentation of farms, falling real wages, landlessness and underemployment, soil erosion and overgrazing. However, there is a long-established if minor tradition in economic writing which argues that not only does population growth cause economic improvement but that without such a spur human society would remain culturally and economically stagnant. Such a view can be traced from eighteenth-century writers such as Sir James Steuart, through John Weyland and Herbert Spencer (Hutchinson, 1967, 99, 330~ 33I) to current authors such as Colin Clark, A. O. Hirschman and R. G. Wilkinson (Clark, 1967; Hirschman, 1959; Wilkinson, 1973). Discussions of the positive effect of population growth upon agricultural change have been less common. Thus Ester Boserup's book The conditions of agricultural growth (Boserup,
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