Agrarian society: Meaning, History and Characteristics

Agrarian Society: The word agrarian means agriculture-related. And the society whose economy depends on the production of food crops and farmlands an agrarian society. How much the nation’s population depends on agriculture economically also define an agrarian society. It’s not that in this society all people engage themselves in agricultural practices, but majorly it is practised and stressed upon while other means of livelihood exist too. These societies trace their origin back to the time of hunters and gatherers which then shifted into the industrial societies. These societies highly depend on the weather, climate and seasonal factors.

Societies can be broadly divided into tribal societies, agrarian society and industrial society. Agrarian society can be defined as a society where a majority of its population derives its income from agriculture and related activities. Two/third to three/fourth of the world constitutes of agrarian societies. Post Industrial Revolution, the countries that are still primarily agrarian are the poorest.


Human society earlier constituted of hunter-gatherers. While the reasons are unknown, humans started shifting from hunting-gathering to agriculture around 12000 years ago which also marked the end of the last ice age and the start of the Holocene epoch. This is known as the Neolithic Revolution. Agriculture is believed to have first begun in the Fertile Crescent which extends from Iraq to Egypt. Agriculture allowed people to settle down and form communities which gave rise to new social structures and forms of human societal organisation. The ancient Egyptian civilization, Indian civilization, Chinese civilization, and Mayan civilization were all agrarian. The Industrial Revolution has been the next greatest revolution after the Neolithic Revolution. Over the past two hundred years, many societies have turned into industrial societies and the percentage of world population engaged in agriculture consistently grows smaller as machines replace human effort.

Agrarian society Characteristics:

  • An agrarian society is identified by its occupational structure. People are involved in the domestication of plants and animals and other related activities such as weaving, pottery and small occupations like blacksmiths, sweepers, watchmen, etc.
  • Land ownership is uneven. There are landlords, cultivators and sharecroppers or landless labourers. Cultivators cultivate their land themselves while landlords hire landless labourers to work on their fields.
  • There are very few specialised roles. Division of labour is not sophisticated and is usually based on age and sex differences. The society is homogenous in terms of occupations, religious groups, values, culture, etc.
  • Life is centred around the village community system. Social hierarchies, life patterns, habits and attitudes are rigid.
  • Family as an institution is central to an agrarian society. It works not only as social support but also as an economic unit since all individuals of the family are involved in agriculture.

The industrialisation has also had an impact on agrarian societies and many of their basic features have changed. They are no longer unified social units that are not impacted by the outside world. Farmers have become commercial farmers and sell their output to aid industrial societies. The social structures are not as rigid. In sociology, societies are seen to naturally progress from tribal to agrarian and from agrarian to industrial societies. As agricultural output increases, more people start engaging in trade and other activities. When more than 50% of the people are engaged in non-agricultural activities, it is considered an industrial society. All societies today are trying to reduce their dependence on agriculture and switch to industrialisation.


Agrarianism is a social philosophy which considers the agrarian way of life to be superior to the industrial way of life. It stresses the superiority of simple rural life over the complexity and chaos of urban industrial life. It views the rural community as self-sufficient and associates working the land with morality and spirituality. Industrial societies are seen as vulnerable and exploitative and associated with loss of independence and dignity.

Agrarian societies have inspired many such ideas and theories which try to understand the dynamics between industrial and agrarian societies and seek to find the ideal way of life.

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