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Hydraulic agriculture is the term used by Karl A. Wittfogel in Oriental Despotism to describe large scale irrigated agriculture which requires large scale cooperation, and according to him, offers an opportunity for oppression. This is contrasted to "hydroagriculture", small scale irrigated agriculture carried on by an individual or small community.[1]

Wittfogel's analysis has not been accorded respect due to its conflation with the general rejection of "Orientalism" as a rational category, however, deriving whatever sense there is in it is aided by keeping in mind the distinction he makes between small scale irrigated farming, hydroagriculture, and large scale irrigated agriculture, hydraulic agriculture.[2] Googling for "hydraulic agriculture" yields some hits, but usually as a synonym for irrigated agriculture, without the distinction which Wittfogel made.


  1. Page 12, Oriental Despotism: A Comparative Study of Total Power, Yale University Press (1957), hardcover, 556 pages
  2. "Wittfogel's Neglected Hydraulic/Hydroagricultural Distinction" David H. Price Journal of Anthropological Research, Vol. 50, No. 2 (Summer, 1994), pp. 187-204
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