Nature, Labour, and the Making of Ecological Peripheries

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This article briefly considers how the integration of the biophysical world into our analyses of the past can enhance our understanding of the socio-economic inequalities of the modern world. Taking Ulbe Bosma's The Making of Periphery as its central reference point, it argues that the process of “peripheralization” – generally treated as an economic or social phenomenon – can also be usefully approached as an interaction between human and non-human forces. It uses the example of Southeast Asian rubber production to show how the different arrangements of people, plants, soil and water on European estates and indigenous smallholdings gave the latter distinct ecological advantages that boosted their oft-cited economic competitiveness, and that consequently forced plantations to extract even more value from cheap labour. In this sense, the environmental history of Southeast Asian rubber offers further evidence for Bosma's core theses about the heterogeneity of peripheralization processes and the importance of demography and labour relations in shaping them.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)467-479
JournalInternational Review of Social History
Issue number3
Early online date23 Oct 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2020


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