Land’s End: Capitalist Relations on an Indigenous Frontier

Social Justice @ UBC Noted Scholars Lecture Series
The Intimate Public Sphere: Thinking Through the Skin


Dr. Tania Murray Li

Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of Toronto
Canada Research Chair, Political Economy and Culture of Asia


Drawing on two decades of ethnographic research in Sulawesi, Indonesia, Dr. Tania Murray Li offers an intimate account of the emergence of capitalist relations among indigenous highlanders who privatized their common land to plant a boom crop, cacao. Spurred by the hope of ending their poverty and isolation, some prospered, while others lost their land and struggled to sustain their families. Yet the winners and losers in this transition were not strangers – they were kin and neighbors.  Dr. Li explores the highlanders’ world, and the dilemmas they faced as sharp inequalities emerged among them. Her analysis challenges complacent, modernization narratives promoted by development agencies that assume inefficient farmers who lose out in the shift to high-value export crops can find jobs elsewhere. Decades of uneven and often-jobless growth in Indonesia meant that for newly-landless highlanders, land’s end was a dead end.  It also has implications for social movement activists, who seldom attend to instances where enclosure is initiated by farmers rather than coerced by the state or agri-business corporations.  By attending to the historical, cultural and ecological dimensions of this conjuncture, Dr. Li demonstrates the power of the ethnographic method and its relevance to theory and practice today.


Dr. Tania Murray Li teaches in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Toronto, where she holds the Canada Research Chair in the Political Economy and Culture of Asia. Her publications include Land’s End: Capitalist Relations on an Indigenous Frontier (Duke University Press 2014), Powers of Exclusion: Land Dilemmas in Southeast Asia (with Derek Hall and Philip Hirsch, NUS Press, 2011), The Will to Improve: Governmentality, Development, and the Practice of Politics (Duke University Press, 2007) and many articles on land, development, resource struggles, community, class, and indigeneity with a particular focus on Indonesia.


Date:        Wednesday February 25, 12-1pm*

Location:  2080 West Mall, Jack Bell Bldg. Room 028, University of British Columbia

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*Lunch provided with RSVP

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Co-sponsored by the Ecologies of Social Difference Social Justice @ UBC Thematic Research Network