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.[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.
|Feudal land tenure in England|
In some contexts, "peasant" has a pejorative meaning, even when referring to farm laborers. As early as in 13th-century Germany, the concept of "peasant" could imply "rustic" as well as "robber", as the English term villain/villein In 21st-century English, the word "peasant" can mean "an ignorant, rude, or unsophisticated person". The word rose to renewed popularity in the 1940s–1960s 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".
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. 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[update]. 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.