Oral Presentation Session
Reviewed by: Association for Political and Legal Anthropology
Primary Theme: The Political
Secondary Theme: Social movements
This panel confronts shifting entanglements between ongoing dispossession, new forms of popular
politics, and the rhetorical and material processes that shape political subjects’ actions and imaginations
across South and Southeast Asia today. At stake is a fundamental reordering of political modernity in
southern Asia, where earlier visions of postcolonial transition – from farm to factory, peasant to
proletariat, precapital to capital – no longer maintain the political or empirical purchase they once did.
Instead, struggles over dispossession trouble the telos of transition, even as novel “right” populisms –
from Modi to Duterte, and even Suu Kyi – thrive on the suffering dispossession entails. Meanwhile, the
growth of informal and precarious labor means people displaced from their land are increasingly likely to
become surplus to the expanded reproduction of capital, raising questions over the transit between
sovereignty and citizenship in national-popular political formations in the present.
Against this backdrop, this panel brings classic subjects in political anthropology – the structure, practice,
and experience of politics in societies undergoing change – into conversation with revitalized
interdisciplinary research on dispossession, primitive accumulation, and popular politics in South and
Southeast Asia. Treating dispossession provisionally as the often coercive transfer of control over land
and natural resources, we ask: how and why is control over land and resources changing in southern Asia
today, and how are these changes experienced and understood? Moreover, how or to what extent does
dispossession form the material basis of recent populist movements, whether left or right, liberal or
illiberal, local or national? Indeed, how might populism – articulated, often, through rhetorics of
repossession and reclamation, of reinscription through national belonging – blur the boundaries of these
political categories themselves? At the limits, thus, of politics and political form, what of subjects surplus
to or excluded from national-popular formations, and how might new forms of accumulation and
extraction put pressure on old ways of defining and pathologizing populism?
Drawing on extended ethnographic research in Tibet, India, Burma (Myanmar), and Vietnam, this panel
links systemic questions of political economy to grounded studies of political practice and subjectivity. In
carefully tracking the crystallization of emergent political forms, this panel advances wider debates over
the nature and experience of democracy, populism, and economic transformation today.