Autonomy as a politico-economic concept: Peasant practices and nested markets

Jan Douwe van der Ploeg, Sergio Schneider*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


This paper discusses autonomy as a set of practices that result in the production and reproduction of resources that allow for self-organization. We define autonomy as a social construct that refers to the self-organizing capacity of people, communities, and movements. Such capacity assumes both resources and agency. In that vein, our conceptualisation implies that autonomy is a relational concept: It can only emerge when and where struggles that aim at going beyond dependency (i.e., nonautonomy) concretely exist. Autonomy is three-pronged, involving a set of goal-oriented activities, a distantiation from capital, and the agency of social actors. Intertwined with these levels are peasant movements that have the capacity to develop and implement a political agenda that is not overshadowed and/or dictated by external influences. The paper illustrates this intertwining with the case of the Circuito (O Circuito), a Brazilian peasant movement that has constructed and operates an extended farmers' market and which simultaneously transforms farming practices. The Circuit is the outcome of collective action and shows the potential of multilevel performance of several actors engaged in concerted actions. In the conclusion, we suggest that the Circuit represents autonomy based on commonly pooled resources as well representing a countermovement to the destructive dynamics of food empires.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)529-546
JournalJournal of Agrarian Change
Issue number3
Early online date17 Feb 2022
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2022


  • agency
  • autonomy
  • Brazil
  • institutions
  • markets
  • peasant struggles


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