Communications consistently fail between peasants and the recipients of their rent funds. As peasants increasingly fall under the influence of international corporations, their level of exploitation and the resulting unrest increases dramatically, as the need for land reform to improve living conditions becomes increasingly apparent. This need is often expressed through violence on the part of those aligned along both sides of the issue at hand, landlords and peasants alike.
In Beyond Culture, Edward T. Hall outlines the nature of communication in a way applicable to the situation of peasants affected by globalization. Most relevant to the situation of communication and peasants with respect to globalization is the concept of context, and this is where this brief analysis begins.
According to Hall, "the level of context determines everything about the nature of the communication and is the foundation on which all subsequent behavior rests (including symbolic behavior)" emphasis mine (92). Hall conceives of context occurring on a scale ranging from high to low. High context communication tends to occur in relatively closed systems, or those that have a fairly low level of interaction with those not intrinsically engaged in the everyday goings-on of the system. High context communication might include that occurring among those sharing a common profession. Peasant forms of communication fall under this category. Peasant societies are most frequently constituted by indigenous populations whose cultures have been developing for many years without the broad contexts that result in low context communications systems.
Low context systems of communication occur in relatively open systems, or systems that span wide geographic and demographic ranges (Hall 91). For example, in the United States, a wide matrix of cultural and experiential backgrounds tends to define the character of communication on a national level. This is why the average newspaper is written for an audience of relatively low literacy; the larger or more varied the audience, the less the context of the readers is shared and thus the less efficacy and efficiency allowed in communication in such media.
In the case of peasants, a key to the problem of successful attempts at land reform is the gap in context of communication between they and their landlords. Communicating with the landlords themselves may be easy enough, if those with whom the peasants must directly communicate have a relatively well-established and long-standing relationship. Dealing with those with whom it is necessary to communicate in order to achieve land reform may be more difficult. The reasons for this follow.
First, the contextual level of peasant communications strategies may be too high relative to the communications strategies of the institutions with which it is necessary to communicate in order to achieve land reform. This may result from language differences, which represent a major barrier. Language differences may not constitute a difference in distinct language, or even dialect, but may instead be manifest in a huge difference between everyday, informal communication and the formalized language of bureaucracies. Contextual differences may also constitute a difference in the indicators of meaning within communications. Correspondence, for example, might prove a difficult medium of communication for the members of a culture whose expressiveness depends on the physical presence of the recipient of such communications.
The second point of difficulty lies in incompatibilities between peasant communications strategies and the communications strategies required by the institutions with which communication must occur. Physical distance between the two groups is a prime example of this point. Extensive travel can be expensive and prohibitive to continued employment and tenancy. If it is necessary to travel great distances in order to initiate land reform movements, the problematic contextual differences between cultures become of secondary concern to what is required to even initiate communication in the first place. This is especially true of migrant peasantry. Education is also a factor. A legal document, which is normally low context because of its assumption that the reader knows virtually nothing about the case at hand, immediately becomes extremely difficult to decode in the hands of someone uneducated in the nuances of the language employed by such documents, even if they are highly literate in, say, the poetry of the same language.
Finally, there may be some requirements for effective communication external to the relative contextual levels of the cultures involved. Financial requirements for the initiation of communication represent such an external requirement. Regardless of the potential effectiveness of a letter pleading for land reform, if one can't afford the postage necessary, the letter is useless. The same is true of the support of a fine lawyer whose services are beyond the means of those seeking policy changes. Another such external requirement might be an insufficient population to gain representation within the body empowered to grant land reform. Finally, there may simply be no mechanism for land reform existing in the status quo.
This, of course, leads to desperate measures on the part of the peasantry. Such desperate measures come in the form of a shift to low context communications; frequently it is a violent one.
Hall, Edward T. Beyond Culture
. New York: Anchor Books, 1976.
This is a term paper in progress. It has been noded in order to gain some feedback from the folks on E2, as well as (hopefully) to inform, since this community is at its best when it allows individuals to share knowledge and grow with that knowledge. My intended thesis involves the violent resistance peasant activists use in attempts to gain land reform, and its increasing impotence in the face of global corporations and the institutions backing them. As I complete subsequent drafts, I'll be HTML-ifying them and posting them here. Any feedback, in the form of email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or a /msg is greatly appreciated. Thanks, everythingians!