The bulk of analysis and commentary on violent conflicts in developing countries over the past 20 years or so has neglected the dynamics and tensions of agrarian political economy. Introducing a special issue devoted to these agrarian dimensions of armed conflict, non-war violence and post-war repertoires of political mobilization, this paper argues for a new research and policy agenda. In doing so, we revive some older analytical approaches and suggest that they can refresh and enhance current scholarship. We argue too for a historical perspective: not simply to highlight precedents but, rather, because such a perspective helps to clarify the issues involved and their centrality to processes of rural change, as well as to show that there may be long-run continuities in patterns of conflict. Bringing the agrarian back in to the study of violent conflict means investigating access to land and capital and means of mobilizing labour; it means investigating changes in the institutional regulation of such access and control; and it means identifying the tensions, techniques of compulsion and modes of resistance developed around productive relations in, typically, a globalized context.