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Enclosing Land, Entangling Labour: Development through Primitive Accumulation in Kuttanad, Kerala
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Enclosing Land, Entangling Labour: Development through Primitive Accumulation in Kuttanad, Kerala


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The paper aims to look at the interactions between colonial geography, developmental geography and ecological geography in Kuttanad region, in the south Indian state of Kerala. It mainly looks at the …

The paper aims to look at the interactions between colonial geography, developmental geography and ecological geography in Kuttanad region, in the south Indian state of Kerala. It mainly looks at the two phases of ‘capitalistic’ accumulation; the early period of kayal (backwater) reclamation and the present period of re-reclamation. Development through primitive accumulation (DPA), actively supported, promoted and managed by the State, is seen to be the common thread in both the periods. One can easily discern that commoning is integral to this continuing process of DPA, which involves appropriation, distribution and production of commons. The extended argument of the paper is that enclosure of land and entanglement of labour- the twin constitutive features of DPA is actualised through what we term as accumulation by urbanisation (AbU) and dispossession by displacement (DbD). The study attempts to explore the consolidation of state, in the form of superimposition of bourgeois forms of property and social relations, through the creation of developmental zones as New Spatialities of Exception (NSEs) in Kuttanad; and the appropriation, distribution and production of various types of commons in the developmental zones of Kuttanad.

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  • 1. enclosing land, entangling labour: development through primitive accumulation in kuttanad, kerala 1 conference ‘the return of the land question: dispossession, livelihoods, and contestation in india's capitalist transition’ on 4-6 march 2014 organised by faculty of arts and australia india institute, university of melbourne, institute of development studies kolkata and indian institute of management calcutta kuriakose mathew phd candidate (sociology) department of humanities and social sciences, indian institute of technology bombay, mumbai email:
  • 2. 2
  • 3. introduction 3  mapping the interactions between colonial, developmental and ecological geographies in Kuttanad.  two phases of capitalist accumulation in kuttanad  early reclamation period (1865 to 1947)  later re-reclamation period (1947 to the present)  understanding and explaining the history of enclosure of nature and entanglement of labour in the region
  • 4. the theoretical framework 4 distributive state apparatus (DSA) the making of developmentalist state in third world as a response to colonisation  the re/distributive functions of the state as a response to multiple dependencies  DSA as a missing link between Althusser’s ideological state apparatus and repressive state apparatus  DSA as the totality of distributive and redistributive functions of the state, which includes differential sets of rewards, punishments, incentives, dis/investments, non/recognition, and resource shifts, with qualitatively and quantitatively varying impact on different sections in society because development is the modus operandi of DSA and it is the enabler of primitive accumulation in kuttanad, the mode of governance could be termed as development through primitive accumulation (DPA)
  • 5. the theoretical framework 5  realising the appropriation-distribution-production matrix in which urbanisation is phenomenon simultaneously a constitutive and resultant  urbanisation is the carrier of capitalist development (development of bourgeois forms of property and relations) in kuttanad; hence, accumulation by urbanisation (AbU)  since dispossession is at the heart of appropriation-distribution- production matrix and displacement of nature and labour is what defines dispossession kuttanad, we call it dispossession by displacement (DbD)
  • 6. the theoretical framework 6  five markers of accumulation and dispossession in kuttanad • • • • • land shift crop shift labour shift technology shift resource shift  the synthesis between internal and external colonialisms in DPA
  • 7. dependency background of the subaltern region 7  a region trapped in dependency and subalternity  fragility of the wetland eco-system and the deltaic formation  below sea level paddy cultivation  five upstream rivers making the region a waterfill or water desert  conflictual co-existence of multiple livelihood options  changing regional vitality in various regimes • chera dynasty-chembakassery and kingdom/british empire-kerala/india kayamkulam chiefdoms-tiruvitamkoor  development of dependency • plantations in uplands-spices export-making of the imperialist market chain-rice importreclamation- salinity and flood management-conflict over commons-mediations by DSAdevelopmental dependency  concentration dependency of oppressed castes/classes and inter-sectional
  • 8. is the ‘free lake’ res nullius or res omnium? 8  lake vembanad for colonial appropriation  res nullius - things belonging to nobody’ and res omnium -‘things belonging to everybody (Schmitt, 2006: 175-176)  lake vembanad- res omnium to res nullius mediated by the nomos of the tributary regime; but leading to colonial conquest and distribution of land to commodification of commons  slaves castes from res omnium to res nullius with the abolition of slavery in the kingdom
  • 9. internal and external dependencies and subalternisation in/of kuttanad region 9  dependency of the region on an imperialist world market • near annexation of the kingdom by the british-integration with the empire and the imperialist world market of monoploies-kuttanad as a rice bowl-rice centric economy and diet-rice import- search for new paddy fields with state support  dependency- caste-wise and class-wise • • the making of new professional landlord class the monetisation of wages, politics of shelter, caste-class power  developmental dependency and subalternisation of nature-labour  dependency-subalternity dialectics
  • 10. development through primitive accumulation in kuttanad 10 development for re-commodification of nature and labour and freeing of nature and labour constantly from their previous avatars  “the difference between accumulation and primitive accumulation, not being a substantive one, is a difference in the conditions and forms in which this separation is implemented... accumulation proper is nothing else than primitive accumulation” (De Angelis, 2001: 6).  primitive accumulation as a continuous process ; it must always create an outside, for reconstituting the appropriation-distribution-production matrix  “[w]hat is distinctive about the first model, which applies generally to Europe as a whole, is that the new wealth for the primitive accumulation of capital comes from the outside (from the colonial territories) and the command arises internally (through the evolution of English and European relations of production). According to the second model, which characterizes most of the modern processes of primitive accumulation outside Europe, the terms are reversed, such that the new wealth arises from within and command comes from the outside (usually European capital). This inversion of wealth/command and inside/outside in the two models leads to a whole series of differences in the economic, political, and social formations of capital across the world” (Hardt and Negri, 2000: 257258). 
  • 11. development through primitive accumulation in kuttanad 11  wealth from inside to outside, hence appropriation again. command- from inside and outside although uneven  for constant subsumption of new territories, territories have to be reinvented; new spatialities of exception  exceptional labour exploitation for labour subsumption  reclamation to re-reclamation, new modes of enslavement of nature and estrangement of labour  kuttanad as wasteland of wetland and a human wasteland or land and labour after a particular moment of DPA
  • 12. the appropriation-distribution-production matrix in kuttanad 12  Carl Schmitt (2006: 327) “in every stage of social life, in every     economic order, in every period of legal history until now, things have been appropriated, distributed and produced” the importance of its sequence “land-appropriation is always the ultimate legal title for all further division and distribution, thus for all further production” (Schmitt, 2006: 328) reclamation- land division among a new landlord class- paddy production re-reclamation- and re-division for production in real estate, fishpaddy, tourism, mining, fisheries
  • 13. accumulation by urbanisation (AbU) and dispossession by displacement (DbD) 13  accumulation embeds to urbanisation (a background process never      became too prominent-semicolonial, semifeudal –semirural, semiurban link) AbU is accompanied by DbD, a twin process but the latter is a resultant condition of the former in the beginning. the sequence is overturned in the later period because of the disorder in the sequence in the appropriation-distribution-production matrix production itself is appropriation and surplus from distribution splintering urbanism (Graham and Marvin, 2001) from integrated to disintegrated urbanism kuttanad package (a Rs. 1840 cr project from 2008) as a sociotechnical process that constitutes kuttanad as fragmented and spatially disordered spaces based on spatial and societal privileges.
  • 14. land, crop, labour, technological and resource shifts in kuttanad 14  altering land use land cover  wetlands-paddy fields- one-paddy-one-fish – dry lands- land filling       tourist spaces- mining spaces lake vembanad as a floating urban space crops- food crops to cash crops-perennial crops Save Rice Fields Action slave-servile-attached-seasonal-subjugated labour service-hired-contract-gawking labour water wheels-kerosene pumps-electric pump sets- harvest-threshing machines, earth movers development funds diversion, resource diversion, access to commons
  • 15. in conclusion 15  special agricultural zone (paddy or other crops?) or fishing zone or ecologically fragile area or special tourist zone?
  • 16. 16  thank you