2017 Student Research Conference:
30th Annual Student Research Conference

On (Not) Skipping Class: Brenner and Economic Development 


Ben J. Wallis
Dr. Torbj√∂rn Wandel , Faculty Mentor

The Marxist historiographical tradition has always been preoccupied with the transition from feudalism to capitalism that occurred in Europe between the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries. This line of inquiry was central to the works of Marx and Engels, and was carried into the twentieth century by Marxists looking to prove history’s advance towards socialism. Against these dominant “determinist” currents, in 1976 historian Robert Brenner published the path-breaking essay “Agrarian Class Structure and Economic Development in Pre-Industrial Europe.” In it, Brenner took issue with the “mechanistic” and “economistic” explanations that were fundamental to Marxist histories of the capitalist transition. Brenner’s piece sought to re-center the agency of the European peasantry and emphasize the variable nature of class struggle. In my paper, I critically analyze Brenner’s argument, note its weaknesses, and examine how it influenced subsequent Marxist historiography—inaugurating a move away from determinism and towards a concrete analysis of class forces.

Keywords: Marxism, Brenner Debate, Transition Debate, Capitalism, Pre-Industrial Europe

Topic(s):History

Presentation Type: Oral Paper

Session: 108-5
Location: VH 1224
Time: 9:00

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