Markets or What? Economic Networks and the Spatial Distribution of Agrarian Activism

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Mobilizing support through an organization known as the Farmers’ Alliance, the Populist movement of the late 19th century sought to bring together producers throughout the agrarian periphery in an effort to remedy abuses associated with the marketing of commercial crops. Combining innovations in network analysis with new data on the location of market infrastructure and social movement organizations, I examine the relationship between market position and the propensity for Alliance activity. While the Populist movement explicitly targeted market intermediaries such as grain buyers and railroads, I find little evidence that mobilization was tied to market position as such. The distribution of market infrastructure mattered insofar as it created opportunities for growth, thus separating nascent towns and villages from the more sparsely settled countryside where the Alliance flourished.

Discussant: Richard Johnson (Queen Mary, University of London)