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Mega-Plantations in Southeast Asia

Landscapes of Displacement

Miles Kenney-Lazar and Noboru Ishikawa

This article reviews a wide body of literature on the emergence and expansion of agro-industrial, monoculture plantations across Southeast Asia through the lens of megaprojects. Following the characterization of megaprojects as displacement, we define mega-plantations as plantation development that rapidly and radically transforms landscapes in ways that displace and replace preexisting human and nonhuman communities. Mega-plantations require the application of large amounts of capital and political power and the transnational organization of labor, capital, and material. They emerged in Southeast Asia under European colonialism in the nineteenth century and have expanded again since the 1980s at an unprecedented scale and scope to feed global appetites for agro-industrial commodities such as palm oil and rubber. While they have been contested by customary land users, smallholders, civil society organizations, and even government regulators, their displacement and transformation of Southeast Asia’s rural landscapes will likely endure for quite some time.

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David Nicol

This is a work of creative fiction that imagines an alternate universe in which a fragment of the enigmatic lost play The Plantation of Virginia has miraculously survived to the present.

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Crisis and retirement

Alienation in Kerala’s tea belt

Jayaseelan Raj

The recent crisis in the tea industry has devastated the livelihood of the Dalit workforce in the South Indian state of Kerala. Retired workers were worst affected, since the plantation companies—under the disguise of the crisis—deferred their service payout. This article seeks to understand the severe alienation of the retirees as they struggle to regain lost respect, kinship network, and everyday sociality in the plantations and beyond. I argue that the alienation produced through their dispossession as wage laborers and the discrimination as Tamil-speaking Dalit must be understood as an interrelated process, whereas the source of alienation cannot be reduced to production or categorical relations alone.

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Anna Tsing

To take the concept of the Anthropocene seriously requires engagement with global history. But what ‘global’ shall this be? In honour of the work of Marilyn Strathern, this essay explores that planetary Anthropocene composed of fragments that do not fit together at all, and yet necessarily do. At the centre of my concerns are the awkward relations between what one might call ‘machines of replication’ – those simplified ecologies, such as plantations, in which life worlds are remade as future assets – and the vernacular histories in which such machines erupt in all their particularity and go feral in counter-intentional forms. Such eruptions are manifestations of post-Enlightenment modern Man, the one who got us into the mess we call the Anthropocene. Yet, in contrast to approaches that begin with the unified continuity of Man (versus indigenous ontologies; as scientific protocol and so on), this article explores contingent eruptions and the patchy, fractured Anthropocene they foster.

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Robert L. Paquette

Most historians, even specialists in the field of slavery, know little about the largest and bloodiest slave insurrection in United States history. The revolt broke out in a sugar-producing region in the Territory of Orleans in 1811, one year before Louisiana's statehood. A disciplined army of rebels composed of men and women, African-born slaves and creole slaves, mulattoes and blacks, skilled slaves and field hands, marched down the east bank of the Mississippi River in quickstep toward New Orleans. Stunned eyewitnesses observe slaves in military formation with drums beating and flags waving. At least some of the leaders of the revolt were uniformed, mounted on horseback, and wielded rearms. Charles, a mulatto slave driver allegedly from Saint-Domingue (Haiti), led the uprising. The 1811 insurrection raises big questions about the causes and content of slave rebellion. Why did the insurrection break out when and where it did? How were slaves of different types from different plantations mobilized to revolt? Was the Louisiana insurrection influenced by the slave revolution in Saint-Domingue? Or were the causes of the revolt local? Why did free-people of color assist whites in suppressing the movement? What were the goals of the rebels? Summary justice led to the grisly executions and mutilations of scores of slaves. Did torture and terror have the desired results for the master class?

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Affective Solidarities?

Participating in and Witnessing Fair Trade and Women’s Empowerment in Transnational Communities of Practice

Dabarati Sen

The popularity of fair trade products has engendered new possibilities for consumer citizens in the global North to demonstrate solidarity with producers in the global South. Fair trade enthusiasts not only buy labelled products as an act of solidarity with producers in Darjeeling’s tea plantations; but also extend their affective solidarity by voluntarily visiting certified production sites to witness how fair trade affects workers’ livelihoods. Fair trade as transnational praxis has inadvertently pushed justice seeking and delivery to a non-state sphere that is not accountable to the workers in terms of citizenship rights; however, it must address the bargaining power of producers since wages and benefits are baseline determinants of quality of life. Fair trade-engendered solidarity practices erase the complex history of workers’ struggle with the state and established systems of power through collective bargaining. These acts in turn produce new kinds of transnational praxis affecting the plantation public sphere.

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Sarah Besky and Jonathan Padwe

In this article, we use plants to think about territory, a concept that is at once a bulwark of social theory and an under-theorized category of social analysis. Scholarship on plants brings together three overlapping approaches to territory: biological and behaviorist theories; representational and cartographic perspectives; and more-than-human analysis. We argue that these three approaches are not mutually exclusive. Rather, different epistemologies of territory overlap and are imbricated within each other. We further argue that these three approaches to territory inform three distinct domains of territoriality: legibility and surveillance; ordering and classification; and exclusion and inclusion. Through examples of how plants operate in these three domains, we illustrate the analytical potential that a more-than-human approach to territory provides. We conclude, however, that attention to the particularities of plant ecologies can help move multispecies discussions more firmly into the realm of the political economic.

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Worst Conceivable Form

Race, Global Capital, and The Making of the English Working Class

Zach Sell

W. E. B. Du Bois noted that the nineteenth-century US slave plantation corresponded with the factory in its worst conceivable form. This article expands upon Du Bois's insight to consider the emergence of the English working class in correspondence with American settler slavery and colonial projects within the British Empire. From above, elites theorized about the exploitation of labor as a world historical project to compare the enslaved, the colonized, and the English worker against one another. From below, proletarian intellectuals imagined the freedom of English laborers through the condition of the enslaved in the American South and Jamaica and the colonized in South Asia. By placing these histories from above and below together, this article argues that it is impossible to conceive of the English working class making itself and being made at remove from the enslaving and colonizing projects of global capital.

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Unsettling the Land

Indigeneity, Ontology, and Hybridity in Settler Colonialism

Paul Berne Burow, Samara Brock and Michael R. Dove

This article examines different ontologies of land in settler colonialism and Indigenous movements for decolonization and environmental justice. Settler ontologies of land operate by occluding other modes of perceiving, representing, and experiencing land. Indigenous ontologies of land are commonly oriented around relationality and reciprocal obligations among humans and the other-than-human. Drawing together scholarship from literatures in political economy, political ecology, Indigenous studies, and post-humanism, we synthesize an approach to thinking with land to understand structures of dispossession and the possibilities for Indigenous revitalization through ontological hybridity. Using two different case studies—plantation development in Indonesia and land revitalization in the Confederated Salish & Kootenai Nation—we further develop how settler and Indigenous ontologies operate on the ground, illuminating the coexistence of multiple ontologies of land. Given the centrality of land in settler colonialism, hybrid ontologies are important to Indigenous movements seeking to simultaneously strengthen sovereignty over territory and revitalize land-based practices.

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The return of Pierre Proudhon

Property rights, crime, and the rules of law

Esther Kingston-Mann

This essay in comparative history considers how governing elites and rural publics have interpreted rules of law and criminal behavior in times of radical tenure transformation. During the twentieth century, Russians experienced three state-sponsored attempts at property rights revolution: firstly, the pre-1917 Stolypin Reforms to privatize the ubiquitous peasant communes, secondly, Stalin’s 1930s campaign to forcibly collectivized peasant communes, and thirdly, the 1990s ‘shock therapy’ reforms to replace Soviet collectivism with wholesale privatization. In each case, adherents of the pre-existing property systems were excluded from the decision-making process that established the new one. Russia’s historical experience is viewed in light of the contested emergence of private property regimes during England’s enclosure movement, and during the nineteenth-century Euro- pean settler appropriation of American Indian land as private property—with African-born plantation workers also later claimed as private property. In some cases, resistance was viewed as criminal; in others, it was punishable as treason.