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Informazione personale

Jan Douwe van der Ploeg was born in 1950 and grew up in Fryslân, in the north of the Netherlands. After his secondary education in Sneek (1968), he attended Wageningen Agricultural University where he was awarded the degree of agricultural engineer in 1976. In Wageningen he specialized in agrarian sociology of non-western countries, development economics and methods and techniques of social research. During his study he spent more than a year in Peru. Here, in Piura, he studied the contradictions of the land reform process that was taking place at that time. After he had completed his field research he wrote his first book, De Gestolen Toekomst (The Stolen Future) in which he compared the development pattern that had evolved within local peasant communities to that imposed by the government.

When he was a student he spent one year on the Board of the Wageningen Student Syndicate (Wastra) and was also closely involved in the Boerengroep (Farmers Group), an association of radical students and young staff members who aligned themselves with farmers' protest movements in the Netherlands.

After his graduation he went to work in Colombia (1976-1978), where he was involved in the formation of rural cooperatives and in Guiné Bissau (1978-1980), where he worked on the (re-) construction of rural water supply services, dams and horticultural gardens. In the same period he carried out short consultancy missions in Ghana, Peru, Ivory Coast and Italy.

multidisciplinary research programme
In the early 1980's, together with Eppo Bolhuis, he designed a multidisciplinary research programme that focussed on a better understanding of the complex and often contradictory relations between farming and markets. This research was carried out in Italy (Emilia Romagna and Campania) and in Peru (Antapampa and Alto Piura) and formed the bases for his doctoral thesis which was published in the Netherlands under the title Boerenarbeid en stijlen van landbouwbeoefening, in Italy as La ristrutturazione del lavoro agricolo and in English translation by Westview Press as Labour, Markets and Agricultural Production. He defended his thesis at the University of Leiden in 1985.

Labour, markets and agricultural production demonstrated that an increased incorporation into the markets on the supply side (that is an increased commoditization of the agricultural process of production) implied a basic shift in development pattern from ongoing intensification, spurred mainly by an increase in the quantity and quality of labour to an continuous increase in scale and a (relative) extensification. It was a thesis that gave rise to considerable debate.

After a short period as lecturer at the University of Leiden, Jan Douwe van der Ploeg was asked by Norman Long, Professor of Development Sociology to join his team at Wageningen University. This was the beginning of a particularly fruitful cooperation that resulted in several articles and a new programme that attracted many students. From his new position Jan Douwe van der Ploeg was able to re-study Dutch and more generally European agriculture using approaches derived from development sociology. This included the "actor-oriented approach" developed by Long which he complemented with his own experiences in the developing world.

Rural sociology - particularly the European and North America variant - and development sociology which was primarily focused of the Third World had long been estranged. Van der Ploeg and Long brought these two sources together. Together they became the centre of a group of young researchers that was to include Dirk Roep, Rene de Bruin, Han Wiskerke, Rudolf van Broekhuizen and many others. This group became instrumental in forging a powerful, new theoretical approach. Labour process analysis, differential degrees of commoditization, differential responses to technology development, cultural repertoire and farmers' strategies together with reconceptualized notions of structure, actor and agency formed the cornerstones of this new approach.

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Jan Douwe van der Ploeg
Professor of Transition Processes in Europe
Wageningen University
the Netherlands and Adjunct Professor of Rural Sociology
College of Humanities and Development Studies
China Agricultural University, Beijing, China.
e-mail: click qui