Dissertation Abstracts

Regimes of Dispossession: Special Economic Zones and the Political Economy of Land in India

Author: Levien, Michael J, levien@jhu.edu
Department: Sociology
University: University of California, Berkeley, USA
Supervisor: Michael Burawoy
Year of completion: 2013
Language of dissertation: English

Keywords: dispossession , land , development , India
Areas of Research: Social Movements, Collective Action and Social Change , Historical and Comparative Sociology , Political Sociology


This dissertation attempts to explain how land dispossession came to occupy the center of contemporary Indian political economy. It asks: what has changed about land dispossession from the developmentalist to neoliberal periods in India? Its answer, in brief, is that economic liberalization has fueled a transition from an ideologically powerful Nehruvian “regime of dispossession,” which dispossessed land for state-led projects of productive industrial and infrastructural transformation, to an ideologically tenuous neoliberal regime of dispossession, which dispossesses peasant land for increasingly private and decreasingly developmental purposes. It arrives at this answer by comparing the archetypical forms of dispossession in each period: dams and public sector industrial projects for the first, and Special Economic Zones for the second. While it treats the Nehruvian regime of dispossession through primary and secondary historical sources, the analysis of the neoliberal regime is based on an ethnographic case study of one of the first large Special Economic Zones to be built in North India—the Mahindra World City in the state of Rajasthan. Using the extended case method (Burawoy 1998, 2009), the present work uses this historically and comparatively situated case to advance a theory of the relationship between land dispossession and capitalism, a theory I call “regimes of dispossession.” This theory provides a way of understanding the socially and historically specific forms this relationship takes, how it changes over time, and how these changes affect economic “development” and politics. By integrating land dispossession into theories of capitalist development, “regimes of dispossession” fills an absence in development sociology, reconstructs Marxist theories of “primitive accumulation,” and has implications for how both understand states, economic development, agrarian change, and rural politics in large parts of the world.