Peasants and proletarians are key actors in the social changes that produced the modern world. The concepts identify different forms of demographic behavior, social organization and political action. The peasant is locally oriented and defensive politically, yet has contributed to revolutionary change. The proletarian looks to association beyond locality and is the basis of modern class politics, but the political impact of the proletariat has varied with time and place. There are many types of peasantry and many types of proletariat. The categories serve usefully in comparative and historical analysis, but the variations in types and in the social and political context in which they act need to be specified. The orientations to action and the life chances that both categories describe need to be modified to take account of current social and economic changes. In many parts of the world, the peasant disappears in face of the modernization of agriculture or survives by combining agricultural work with nonagricultural work or migration. The proletarian also retreats in face of the decline of full-time wage employment in the cities, and the increasing importance of independent and part-time employment. Other forms of identity, based on gender or generation, or community-based ones, such as religion or ethnicity, are reinforced as a basis of political action, particularly in face of the growing significance of the state, not the employer, in determining the life chances of different social groups.

Keyword(s): classdevelopmentpeasantproletarianwork

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