A Critic Unfettered: The Legacy of Ernest Feder


  • Eric B. Ross

    1. presently Professorial Lecturer in Anthropology at The George Washington University in Washington DC, USA. His principal interests are the history of anthropology, agrarian justice and the political ecology of the world food system. Among his books are The Malthus Factor: Poverty, Politics and Population in Capitalist Development (Zed Books, 1998) and Death, Sex and Fertility: Population Regulation in Preindustrial and Developing Societies (with M. Harris) (Columbia University Press, 1987). He can be contacted via e-mail at: ross@iss.nl.
    Search for more papers by this author

I am especially appreciative to Ashwani Saith for the invitation to write this piece. I am also particularly grateful to Rodolfo Stavenhagen for sharing some of his memories of Ernest Feder with me and to Ken Post, one of the true scholarly giants of the ISS, for letting me quote from relevant sections of his draft memoirs. Above all, I am richly indebted to Ernest Feder's daughter, Anne Feder Lee, for her immense generosity and, of course, for the wonderful family photos and other memories that she has shared with me. My thanks as well to Zoe Brenner for her special support and understanding during the writing.


Ernest Ludwig Feder was among the most prolific, creative and boldest of rural economists in the decades after the Second World War. Yet much of the work for which he would become most well known — on land reform, dependency and peasant agriculture, particularly in Latin America — was a comparatively late development, starting when he was almost fifty, more than two-thirds of the way through a full and varied life that never conformed to conventional academic criteria and that came to a premature end when he was just seventy-one. In the years since, the relevance of his work has grown, although the number of younger scholars who actually read his books and papers has declined.