work parties, wages, and accumulation in a Voltaic village


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This paper attempts to determine the full significance of labor flows between independent farming units in West Africa in order to evaluate the possibilities of accumulation in traditional African farming and the implications of such accumulation for local‐level stratification. Three forms of agricultural labor–house‐hold, wage, and cooperative‐are compared with respect to their cost to the farmer: (1) Household labor and wage labor may lead to the growth of the farming unit; (2) Cooperative labor, while it allows for a transfer of value in the initial stages of growth, becomes very expensive as the operation of the farmer expands; (3) Farmers from outside the village, operating with more capital, take greater advantage of wage labor and household labor and increase their capacity for wealth accumulation. The mechanism of differential access to the cheaper sources of labor probably existed in the past as well, but the customary landholding system, which ensures a farm to all household heads, has limited the stratifying effects of differential access by preventing the formation of a rural proletariat. [economic anthropology, cooperative labor, agriculture, West Africa, stratification] 1983 American Anthropological Association

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)77-96
Number of pages20
JournalAmerican Ethnologist
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1983

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anthropology


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