Two new reviews of Henri Lefebvre, On the Rural: Economy, Sociology, Geography (University of Minnesota Press, 2022)
Caleb Gallemore in New Political Science
Joseph Pierce in Economic Geography
Both require subscription, unfortunately.
Here’s the start of Pierce’s review:
Stuart Elden and Adam David Morton, as editors of On the Rural, have assembled a strange, slightly lumpy set of conference presentations, chapters, scholarly essays, and even a review essay of another text into a volume that illustrates a key arc in the intellectual life of Henri Lefebvre: his slow journey from a focus on agrarian and peasant concerns to a focus on the urban. In the end, I think the book reveals more to today’s urban scholars than to its ruralists. Yet, precisely where the text fits in the canon surrounding Lefebvre’s writing is hard to definitively articulate because of how his work 1 has been extended by Anglophone scholars since the 1990s. This is a worthwhile book, but I think it will leave some audiences cold and others uneasy about the implications it has for the past thirty years of scholarship building on Lefebvre in translation.
Elden and Morton’s lengthy introduction serves as an excellent interpretive orientation to the text—which is good, because this amalgamation absolutely requires one. The introduction is eloquent, readable, and usefully knits the various texts together, pro- viding essential historic and scholarly context for the chapters that follow. At a high level, the book is organized largely chronologically from the late 1940s to the early 1960s, with two exceptions: the introduction to From the Rural to the Urban, which sits at the beginning of this volume but was initially published in French in 1969; and The Marxist-Leninist Theory of Ground Rent, positioned in the middle of the volume but first published in French [actually Spanish, SE] in 1964. I will return to the latter of these in a moment.
And the end of Gallemore’s review:
In closing, a few words of caution are in order. First, Lefebvre can be a very frustrating writer, even with the help of a carefully curated translation and a very clear introductory essay from the volume’s editors. I suspect that for most readers (certainly including myself), multiple readings will be necessary for the ideas in these essays to be of use or inspiration. On the other hand, it is certainly a testimony to the depth of these materials that they reward multiple readings. Second, as the editors note in their introduction, Lefebvre’s analysis of gender is almost nonexistent and, where present, relatively superficial. The same is generally true for issues of race. In short, for those wishing to go beyond a fairly strict class analysis of agricultural transitions to capitalism, it will be absolutely necessary to put Lefebvre in dialogue with other authors. Third, while the empirical detail present in some of these essays is quite impressive and sheds light on Lefebvre as a sociologist and historian, it may be a bit irrelevant to those not already interested in European agricultural history. Still, as existence proofs of some of Lefebvre’s claims, even these sections can be interesting. This is particularly the case for the final essay in the volume, which provides a detailed history of the complex institutional struggles over land control in the area sur- rounding a village in the Pyrenees, illustrating the complex ways past institutional choices impinge on current practices.
In short, On the Rural is likely to intrigue readers with a diverse set of interests, but they will be best served to approach the volume with a clear idea of what they hope to get out of it, alongside a recognition that getting something out of it may require some fairly careful textual work. It is a valuable contribution to the body of Lefebvre’s work available in English translation.
An earlier review in Cleveland Review of Books by John Lepley is available open access.