Michael Levien, “Dispossession Without Development: Land Grabs in Neoliberal India” (Oxford UP, 2018)


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Historically ubiquitous at least since the 15th century and integral to the rise and consolidation of capitalism, land dispossession has re-emerged as a hot button issue for governments, industries, social movements and researchers.
In his first book Dispossession Without Development: Land Grabs in Neoliberal India (Oxford University Press 2018), Michael Levien explores the causes and consequences of India’s land wars in the contemporary neoliberal period. He distinguishes between dispossession in the immediate aftermath of India’s independence (developmentalist) and dispossession in its present-day iteration (neoliberal) as fundamentally different “regimes”. How these regimes of dispossession – their motivations, methods and forms – interact with specific agrarian milieus reveals the mechanics of dispossession as “a social relation of coercive redistribution” in particular contexts and time periods.
A longitudinal case study of a village called Rajpura in western India dispossessed for a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) housing Mahindra World City (MWC), a private business process outsourcing cum real estate hub, forms the backbone of the book. Deeply unequal and politically quiescent, Rajpura is rain-scarce but predominantly agricultural. Post-SEZ Rajpura is marked by livestock depletion, loss of grazing lands and reduced opportunities for rural wage work, features of a semi-proletarianized condition increasingly common across the global countryside. Minimal linkages between Rajpura and the urbanizing but non-industrial economy initiated by MWC combined with the dramatic booms and busts of real estate speculation driven by state compensation policy on the other hand underscore Levien’s larger argument: “dispossession without development is a broader feature of India’s political economy”.
Levien is Assistant Professor of Sociology in Johns Hopkins University.
Madhuri Karak holds a Ph.D. in cultural anthropology from The Graduate Center, City University of New York. Her dissertation titled “Insurgent Difference: An Ethnography of an Indian Resource Frontier” analyzed resource extraction and development as mutually constitutive logics of rule in the bauxite-rich mountains of southern Odisha, India. She tweets @madhurikarak and more of her work can be found here.
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