The Archaeology of Rural Proletarianization in Early Modern Iceland

Author(s): Eric D Johnson; Douglas J Bolender

Year: 2016


Categories such as capitalism, feudalism, peasantry and proletariat obscure more than they elucidate in Early Modern Iceland. The millennium-long occupation of farms in Skagafjörður, Northern Iceland reveals that during the initial settlement of Iceland in the late ninth century, land was freely available, but by the late seventeenth century over 95% of all farming properties were owned by landlords who frequently renegotiated tenant leases. In many ways these insecure tenants resemble capitalist wage laborers more than traditional medieval peasants. We invoke Lenin’s concept of the "rural proletariat" and David Harvey's notion of "accumulation by dispossession" to examine similarities between the political economies of Early Modern Iceland and agrarian capitalism. For each supposedly "capitalist" and "non-capitalist" regime, an essential strategy for reproducing inequalities is the maintenance of "proletarian" forms of unequal property rights augmented by the mobility of a labor force produced by dispossession and monopolization of productive capital.

Cite this Record

The Archaeology of Rural Proletarianization in Early Modern Iceland. Eric D Johnson, Douglas J Bolender. Presented at Society for Historical Archaeology, Washington, D.C. 2016 ( tDAR id: 434445)

Spatial Coverage

min long: -129.199; min lat: 24.495 ; max long: -66.973; max lat: 49.359 ;

Record Identifiers

PaperId(s): 108