The Bernstein & Byres Prize 2022



We are pleased to announce that Kyla Sankey has been awarded the 2022 Bernstein & Byres Prize for her article ‘From survival to self-governance: A comparison of two peasant autonomy struggles in Colombia’s coffee and frontier regions’, Journal of Agrarian Change 22(3): 506–528. The author teaches at the School of Business and Management, Queen Mary University of London, UK.

The Bernstein & Byres Prize has been awarded since 2008 by the Journal of Agrarian Change (JAC) to the best article published in that year. An award of £500 is given to the winner (donated by our publisher, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd). Articles are judged on: (a) their quality as works of political economy; (b) their analytical power; (c) their originality; and (d) the quality of evidence presented and its deployment. Through this, we hope to reinforce the remit of the Journal in the field of agrarian political economy and to encourage scholarly work investigating the social relations and dynamics of production, property and power in agrarian formations and their processes of change, both historical and contemporary.

For the prize for 2022, a jury of five were asked to assess three articles shortlisted by the Journal’s editors. The other articles included on the shortlist were, in alphabetical order:

Kyla Sankey is the final winner. Her article analyses ‘peasant autonomy’, often seen as a central demand in peasant struggles. It focuses on peasant movements in a coffee and a frontier region in Colombia, in the 1990s and the first decades of the present century. Based on detailed fieldwork, it explores the regionally very different agrarian structures and processes of political class formation by peasants that by now ‘operate within capital’. Peasant autonomy – as ideology and practice – forms part of peasant politics against agrarian crisis and extreme violence but takes very different forms. Sankey shows that the role played by the autonomy ideology should be assessed in its material contexts and relations, including class, and the conditions of peasant organizations and movements. This, she argues, shows significant limits to autonomy as a material and political counter-hegemonic strategy.

Sankey’s nuanced and fine-grained analysis is an excellent contribution to agrarian political economy discussions of ‘autonomy’ as a political strategy and analytical category. In the words of one of our jury members, the analysis is ‘sympathetic to the struggles of rural people engaged in small-scale farming but also critical of unhelpful approaches which avoid confronting real difficulties and tensions’. To quote another jury member, ‘we have here an excellent paper. The mastery of the secondary literature, the high quality of the fieldwork, the intertwining of the two and the analytical quality are exemplary.’

The editors of JAC would like to congratulate Kyla Sankey on her notable achievement. The Journal of Agrarian Change looks forward to welcoming submissions that engage in intellectually ambitious and empirically rigorous work in agrarian political economy.

Kyla Sankey