Anthropologists and other researchers have devoted increased attention to studies of peasants in recent decades, particularly in the form of village-based ethnographic (or historical and archaeological) case descriptions. But there has been inadequate attention paid to comparative research that would allow us to utilize these data to systematically evaluate our various theoretical frameworks in the broadest possible sense. My goal in this book has been to contribute both substantively and methodologically to the comparative endeavor. One of the problem areas of relevance to this work relates to variation in the comparative evaluation of standard of living. I first became aware of the promises—and pitfalls—of this kind of inquiry through Fernand Braudel’s stimulating observations in his Structures of Everyday Life (1979), in which he compared the world’s major historical civilizations based on diet, houses and their furnishings, and costume. Are we to accept his conclusion that medieval Europe was the “richest” preindustrial civilization? Although Braudel’s knowledge of these matters is broad, his method seems impressionistic. For example: Is he basing his conclusions on sufficiently representative data? Can his compared categories really indicate wealth differences, or do they simply indicate cultural preferences? Part of what I hoped to accomplish in my research is to improve the comparative method and then extend Braudel’s comparison of historical cases to include the world’s contemporary peasants.
KeywordsComplex Society Rural House Material Possession Housing Choice Wealth Variation
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