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PLAAS makes a mark at the Global Agrarian Studies Conference

In a recent gathering celebrating half a century of the Journal of Peasant Studies (JPS), scholars and activists converged in the heart of Beijing. UWC’s Institute of Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS) was right there at the helm.

The International Conference on Critical Agrarian Studies in the 21st Century, which took place in October, marked a significant milestone: 50 vibrant years of JPS. JPS is now a leading academic journal with an Impact Factor of 5.1. 

The event took place at the China Agricultural University, seamlessly woven together by the collaborative efforts of institutions, one of which was our very own PLAAS, SARChI Chair, Professor Ruth Hall, is the Editor of JPS and played a pivotal role in orchestrating the event and opened the conference.

Accompanying Professor Hall to the global conference from PLAAS were postdoctoral fellow Dr Boaventura Monjane, presenting on transition minerals and climate justice in Southern Africa; PhD candidate Shane Phiri, presenting on land tenure and social justice after land reform in the Eastern Cape; and MPhil candidate Ashley Fischhoff; whose research shows how women in informal settlements in Stellenbosch strategise individually and collectively for social reproduction and survival.

With a buzzing attendance of over 400 global participants, the conference peeled back layers of the agriculture and environmental challenges of our times. A nostalgic journey into the annals of the Journal of Peasant Studies was also embarked upon, with its roots traced back to 1973 at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies.

Ashley Fischhoff’s presentation was particularly compelling. Delving into the intricacies of the lives we aim to decode, she introduced Jun Borras’s classification to position workers in the broad spectrum of agrarian and urban settings. Her insights challenge the traditional notions of labour, underscoring the centrality of land in familial sustenance and weaving in the nuances of gender and migration.

Another poignant moment was when Professor Ye Jingzhong unveiled a symbolic group photo capturing the essence of peasant studies against the backdrop of contemporary agrarian crusades. At its heart lay scholars and activists fervently working through the JPS to fathom our world and instigate positive change.

At the closing ceremony of the conference, Professor Taisheng Du, Deputy Vice-Chancellor of China Agricultural University, shared his reflections, emphasising the spirit of dialogue and collaboration that animated the event. He further delineated the vision and ethos of the College of Humanities and Development (COHD) at China Agricultural University, a hub for a diverse student body with its core principles deeply rooted in the lived experiences of ordinary people.

Honouring the best in the field, Prof. Du presented awards to luminaries like the former JPS Editor-in-Chief Professor Saturnino Jun Borras (Erasmus University), Professor Jan Douwe van der Ploeg (Wageningen University), and Emeritus Professor Henry Bernstein (SOAS).

This comes less than a year after PLAAS convened and hosted at UWC the JPS Writeshop in Critical Agrarian Studies and Scholar-Activism last December, which brought together 50 PhD candidates and early postdoctoral career scholars for an intensive programme of training in the world of scholarly publishing. This annual event has so far been held both in Beijing and Cape Town and will be convened again in 2024.

The conference was more than a celebration; it was a testament to the indomitable spirit of the Journal of Peasant Studies, its towering legacy, and its unyielding commitment to critical agrarian studies.