This article discusses peasant farming as the main land-labour institution in Europe. It is argued that both land and labour are socially defined. They are materially constituted according to these definitions and whenever social definitions change, the significance, use and position of land and labour in the process of agricultural production are reconstituted. The article uses a periodization that embraces a first period (from 1850 to 1950) in which peasant agriculture strongly develops, albeit at unequal rhythms, in most parts of Europe. A second period (roughly from 1950 to 1990) centres on the modernization of agriculture: an endeavour to induce a new model of entrepreneurial farming within which land and labour increasingly become void categories. The third period (from 1990 onwards) witnesses new and heterogeneous processes of re-peasantization that imply a ‘rediscovery’ of land and labour as central components of forms of farming that are able to resist the neo-liberal re-ordering of agricultural and food markets.
Keywords: Agricultural development, peasants, entrepreneurs, modernization, multifunctionality, markets