Doctoral Dissertation Research: Dispossession and Agrarian Politics


Partha Chatterjee
Senior Research Scholar in the Department of Anthropology and Middle Eastern, South Asian and African Studies; Adjunct Professor of Anthropology
Geoffrey Aung
PhD Student


Does rural modernization inevitably lead to rising average living standards for a minority at the cost of impoverishment of the majority? The research supported by this award investigates the possibility that the answer to this question is "No," that there are alternative scenarios. Historically, rural development has been a mixed blessing. It has increased national incomes and access to modern amenities. But it also has led to dispossession, which is the transfer of control over land and natural resources from small-scale farmers, fishers, and artisans, to governments and commercial interests. For almost three centuries, these forces have transformed self-sufficient rural residents into surplus rural labor who migrated to cities for work, producing increasing numbers of urban poor, or immigrated abroad. But recently social scientists have observed a fundamental shift in this old story. As democracy has spread to new sites, some of the dispossessed have come to see themselves as more than powerless victims whose only options are poverty, insurrection, and migration. Instead, as democratic citizens, they appear to be finding ways to engage and negotiate with the developers. They have obtained concessions, such as increased compensation and enhanced environmental protections, while still allowing projects to go forward. Documenting and understanding these new political processes is important. This knowledge will help policy makers and governments everywhere by pointing to new development pathways that will benefit more with fewer social costs.