A peasant is a pre-industrial agricultural laborer or a farmer with limited land-ownership, especially one living in the Middle Ages under feudalism and paying rent, tax, fees, or services to a landlord.[1][2][failed verification] In Europe, three classes of peasants existed: slave, serf, and free tenant. Peasants might hold title to land either in fee simple or by any of several forms of land tenure, among them socage, quit-rent, leasehold, and copyhold.[3]

Young women offer berries to visitors to their izba home, 1909. Those who had been serfs among the Russian peasantry were officially emancipated in 1861. Photograph by Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky.

In some contexts, "peasant" has a pejorative meaning, even when referring to farm laborers.[4] As early as in 13th-century Germany, the concept of "peasant" could imply "rustic" as well as "robber", as the English term villain[5]/villein[6][7] In 21st-century English, the word "peasant" can mean "an ignorant, rude, or unsophisticated person".[8] The word rose to renewed popularity in the 1940s–1960s[9] as a collective term, often referring to rural populations of developing countries in general, as the "semantic successor to 'native', incorporating all its condescending and racial overtones".[4]

The word peasantry is commonly used in a non-pejorative sense as a collective noun for the rural population in the poor and developing countries of the world.[citation needed] Via Campesina, an organization claiming to represent the rights of about 200 million farm-workers around the world, self-defines as an "International Peasant's Movement" as of 2019.[10] The United Nations and its Human Rights Council prominently uses the term "peasant" in a non-pejorative sense, as in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas adopted in 2018. In general English-language literature, the use of the word "peasant" has steadily declined since about 1970.[11]

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