The Boneh System In Iran's Rural Society

The article focuses on the structure and functions of the traditional group farming system (boneh) and its contribution to the development of civil society in rural Iran. Through and examination of a number of case studies dealing with various types of boneh, the writer argues that the absentee landowners and/or their agents have generally played a significant role in the development, management and control of the boneh system. This point was particularly underlined in the rapid fragmentation and disintegration of the boneh following the implementation of the 1960's land reform which led to a drastic decline of the landowner's power and managerial control in the village communities.

The boneh system, therefore, can not be viewed as a purely voluntary institution that has been developed by the peasant farmers, mostly sharecroppers in an attempt to adapt to irrigation problems in arid and semi-arid regions. However, one should not underestimate its impact on the peasants participation in the agricultural production and on rural social stratification. The analysis of group formation, organizational leaders, division of labor, and individual members's duties and privileges demonstrate that boneh contains certain structural and functional properties which can potentially contribute to the development of civil society in rural Iran under proper socio-political conditions.

Amir Ismail Ajami
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