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Reflections on Latin American Rural Studies in the Neoliberal Globalization Period: A New Rurality?


  • Cristóbal Kay

    1. is Professor in Development Studies and Rural Development at the Institute of Social Studies, PO Box 29776, 2502 LT The Hague, The Netherlands (e-mail: He is also Adjunct Professor in International Development Studies at Saint Mary's University, Halifax and Honorary Research Fellow in Geography and Environmental Sciences at the University of Birmingham. His most recent books include Transnational Agrarian Movements Confronting Globalization (edited with S. Borras and M. Edelman; Wiley-Blackwell, 2008), Peasants and Globalization: Political Economy, Rural Transformation and the Agrarian Question (edited with H. Akram-Lodhi, Routledge, 2009) and Market-Led Agrarian Reform: Critical Perspectives on Neoliberal Land Policies and the Rural Poor (edited with S. Borras and E. Lahiff, Routledge, 2008).
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  • An earlier version of this paper was presented at the DEV/EDU Seminar Series in the School of Development Studies in the University of East Anglia, at the workshop on ‘Agrarian Questions: Lineages and Prospects' held at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London; and at the seminar on ‘Rural Latin America: Contemporary Issues and Debates' held at the Centre for Latin American Research and Documentation (CEDLA), Amsterdam. I am grateful for the comments received from participants at those events as well as those of three anonymous readers of the journal. I alone am responsible for any remaining shortcomings of this article.


This article explores the emergence over the last decade of a new approach to rural development studies in Latin America known as the ‘new rurality’. The various interpretations and ambiguities of this approach as well as the ensuing debates are discussed. Analysis focuses on four major transformations in the rural economy and society which are usually highlighted by the ‘new ruralists’. These changes are interpreted as arising from the region's neoliberal shift and its closer insertion into the global system. A novel distinction is made between reformist and communitarian proposals for a new rurality. The merits as well as the limitations of this new approach to rural studies are examined.