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‘Social agro-systems’ reflected in landscapes. The example of ‘inland Flanders’ in the late middle ages and the early modern period

‘Social agro-systems’ reflected in landscapes. The example of ‘inland Flanders’ in the late middle ages and the early modern period

By Erik Thoen and Peter-Jan Lachaert

XIV International Economic History Congress (2006)

Introduction: There is an increasing tendency, both in England and on the continent, to focus more on regional differences in agricultural development in the past. Regional analyses of agriculture existed before and go back to the beginnings of the Annales-school. Nevertheless, the boundaries used to define these study areas were purely political or pedological. Since the 1980tees one introduced the concept of agro-systems or farm-systems. However, most existing definitions of these agro-systems are in our view still unsatisfactory to be of any practical use for comparative economic history, because mostly they centre on just one part of the economic reality of peasant life, namely the (technical) production methods. The basis of the agro-systemic approach presented in this article will be much more soci(iologic)al; therefore we prefer to label our version of the agro-system a social agro-system.

In our definition, a social agro-system, is a rural production system based on region-specific social relations involved in the economic reproduction of a given geographical area. Social agro-sytems in this particular sense were not stable at all, but underwent structural changes over time. A social agro-system was built up with many qualifying and mutual influencing factors such as social relations, economic behaviour, etcetera. To a certain extent possibilities for economic growth are determined by the interference of all the elements, whereas differences in their features reflect regional differences in social agro-systems.

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