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TCD TCEH blog - Innovation paradigms and technological change in the Galicia agriculture (1890-2000)

Innovation paradigms and technological change in the Galicia agriculture (1890-2000)

Author: Bruno Esperante Paramos

I am currently working on a PhD project on innovation, technological change and the introduction of tractors in Galician agriculture (1890-2000) as part of a larger research project “The great technological and social transformation of Iberian agricultures: old, new and newest paradigms (1950-2000)", led by Prof. Lourenzo Fernádez Prieto and Dr. Daniel Lanero Táboas (University of Santiago de Compostela, Galicia / Spain). My thesis builds upon previous research in the field of Galician agrarian and rural history, most importantly by R. Villares, X. Balboa, L. Fernández Prieto, M. Gabo, A. Cabana, D. Lanero, A. Díaz-Geada and B. Corbacho. The geographical focus of my project is on Galicia, a northwest region of the Iberian Peninsula and one of the most suitable for agriculture due to sufficient rainfalls, mild winters and fertile soils. The importance of pastures and livestock in Galicia contrasts with Mediterranean agriculture or grain farming in the interior of the peninsula.

The chief objective of my research is to identify structural changes in Galician agriculture in the long term, developing an analytical framework that explains how technological change occurred under the specific conditions of farming in the region. I focus in particular on technological change in small family farming and on the introduction of tractors. A key-concept of my work is the “innovation paradigm”, referring to the set of social relations between state, market and society in their impact on inducing (or not) technological change. Every innovation paradigm is characterized by a specific technological offer and by demand. The following three parameters allow us to classify the innovation paradigms in Galician agriculture: the dominant ideological background, the level of agricultural industrialization and the technological horizon of each given moment. The various innovation paradigms are also closely linked to concrete moments in Spanish history: the end of the agricultural crisis in Spain (1890), the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), World War II and the Fascist era of Francoist dictatorship (1939-1950), Franco’s death and the end of the Dictatorship (1975-1978), and Spain’s entry into the EEC (1986).

I have identified four innovation paradigms:

• The Liberal Innovation Paradigm (1890-1936) during the second wave of agricultural industrialization. The technological horizon was defined by the expansion of mechanized, but not motorized, agricultural machines in most Spanish farming regions. Peasant communities at this stage had a high capacity to define technological change, because they had the right to unionize and actively participated in agrarian associations. Peasant farmers could buy iron plows, seeders or even threshing machines (motorized) cooperatively, through unions or agrarian societies.

• The Innovation Paradigm of Agrarian Fascism (1939-1955) was shaped by the rise of European fascism and organic views of society. Technological change in Europe during this period accelerated because of the Second World War. In contrast, technological change in Spain was paralyzed, as isolation and bad economic conditions kept the country out of the third wave of agricultural industrialization until the 1950s.

• The Green Revolution Innovation Paradigm (1955-1985): The Cold War changed the political situation for Francoist Spain, which was excluded from the US-recovery program. However, the third wave of agricultural industrialization and motorization in Spain was triggered by loans and technical support from the US with the spread of the Green Revolution. Peasant communities had a weak position in this period, as state officials and economic actors considered them as backward and uncapable of agricultural modernization.

• The Environmental Sustainability Innovation Paradigm (1986 – onwards): The intense technological changes in agriculture from 1955-1985 caused pollution and environmental conflicts. Since the international oil crises of 1973 many states began to seek of alternative and renewable energies. After the end of the Franco regime 1975-1978 peasant communities received more scope for political agency. Technological change since then was characterized by robotization, computerization, artificial intelligence as well as energy saving systems and renewable energies.

I expect to complete my thesis in 2019 and plan to write articles on the quantitative evolution of tractors in Spain and Galicia and about US technological transfers to Francoist Spain (1950-1962). I hope to integrate some more general reflection about the historiography of the so-called "agrarian question" by revisiting positions of classic Marxists (Marx, Lenin, Kautsky), the ideas brought forward in the context of peasant studies (Chayanov, Shanin, Wolf) and, finally, the most novel contributions on the historical integration of peasantries in capitalist modes of production, consumption and exchange.

Bruno Esperante Paramos, October 2018

Bruno Esperante Paramos is a visiting research fellow at the Trinity Centre for Environmental Humanities. He is about to complete his PhD thesis on innovation and technological change in Galician agriculture (1890-2000) at the University of Santiago de Compostela (Galicia-Spain), where he has also is a member of HISTAGRA Research Group. His main research interests include rural history, the Green Revolution, innovation, technological change and small family farming.