Smallholders remain an important part of human-environment research, particularly in cultural and political ecology, peasant and development studies, and increasingly in land system and sustainability science. This introduction to the edited volume explores land use and livelihood issues among smallholders, in several disciplinary and subfield traditions. Specifically, we provide a short history of smallholder livelihood research in the human-environment tradition. We reflect on why, in an age of rapid globalization, smallholder land use and livelihoods still matter, both for land system science and as a reflection of concerns with inequality and poverty. Key themes that emerge from the papers in this volume include the importance of smallholder farming and land-use practices to questions of environmental sustainability, the dynamic reality of smallholder livelihoods, the challenges of vulnerability and adaptation in contemporary human-environment systems, and the structural and relative nature of the term “smallholder.” Overall these contributions show that smallholder studies are more pertinent than ever, especially in the face of global environmental change. Additionally, we argue that questions of smallholder identity, social difference, and teleconnections provide fertile areas of future research. We conclude that we need to re-envision who the smallholder is today and how this translates into modern human-environment smallholder studies.
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