Woodland Peasants.


Woodland-peasant adaptation in Austria meant small and medium sized farming units, small proportions of servants and day-labourers, a relatively small necessity to recruit extrafamily labour. Kinship and neighbourhood were the dominant principles of social organization. Patron-client relations played a comparatively marginal role. Family-labour and exchange-labour between kinsmen were the dominant forms of labour recruitment, generalized reciprocity the dominant exchange principle. Woodland-peasant adaptation was the product of ecological and cultural factors. The ecological factors were medium altitude (400-600 m), rough climate and poor soil. The cultural factors were the manorial system till 1848; compared to eastern Europe a relatively weak form of peasant dependency; the Austrian path to modernization in the field of agriculture (contrary to the English or Prussian paths to agricultural modernization, large numbers of medium and small-sized peasant units survived, which maintained their predominantly precommercial character until the Second World War) and undivided land inheritance, which prevented fragmentation. In Austria the woodland-peasant society was, apart from the Alpine societies with divided land inheritance, the only type of rural society that represented a peasant society in the real sense of the word: Peasant domination and a small proportion of rural lower classes. This type of rural society was a great contrast to the "servant-societies" of Alpine Austria and the "day-labourer societies" of the lowlands. In the two latter societies the peasants had become a minority from the 18th century at the latest; the rural lower classes dominated quantitatively.

How to Cite

Ortmayr, N., (1988) “Woodland Peasants.”, Ethnologia Europaea 19(1), 103-122. doi: https://doi.org/10.16995/ee.1395


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Norbert Ortmayr (University of Salzburg)



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