Anthropologist Muriel Crespi’s 1971 article, “Changing Power Relations: The Rise of Peasant Unions on Traditional Ecuadorian Haciendas,” explored the disruptive consequences of agrarian capitalism on rural authority structures in the mid-twentieth century. Focusing on the expropriation of Church-owned haciendas and the rise of Marxist-inspired peasant unions in the Ecuadorian highlands near Cayambe, Crespi argued that the collapse of regional haciendas and the moral economy that accompanied them was a critical part of the social unrest and peasant protests that followed.
Similar to anthropologist Silvia Rivera’s work on Bolivia a decade later, Crespi relied on ethnographic fieldwork with peasant unions and other Marxist organizations in Ecuador to support her argument that constant agitation by rural workers forced elites to accept an agrarian-reform package in 1964 (238). Her work is significant for its early embrace of peasants as central protagonists in relationships between landowners and political elites, a theme that would be increasingly embraced by historians over the next several decades (223).
By N. H. Gill