In this episode, I speak with Tania Li, Ph.D — Professor of Anthropology at the University of Toronto and the author of ‘Land’s End: Capitalist Relations on an Indigenous Frontier.’
In our era of globalized neoliberal capitalism, we tend to examine the emergence of capitalist economic and social relations among indigenous communities primarily as a result of overbearing external pressures, e.g. governments, nonprofit organizations, and multinational corporations (often in tandem). It is important, however, to recognize that while this is often the case, this view does not include the ways capitalism can emerge and take hold in far more subtle ways. As documented in ‘Land’s End,’ from 1990 to 2009 Tania conducted annual ethnographic research in the Lauje highlands of Sulawesi Indonesia, and bore witness to the indigenous population’s rapid adoption of the tree crop cocoa for cultivation, transitioning away from the more communally managed production of food crops, as had been done traditionally in these communities for generations. As Tania explains in this episode, the seemingly banal transformation the highlanders of this region experienced —transitioning from the communal production of food crops to the more privatized production of cocoa — not only produced capitalist relations among the Lauje, but did so with very minimal to non-existent pressures from outside institutions. How did this happen? What can we learn about nature of capitalism and its emergence from Tania’s profound ethnographic study, and how can we apply this knowledge to more adequately respond to the material conditions that produce these results? Tania and I discuss these questions and much more in this episode.
Tania Li, Ph.D is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Toronto and the author of several books, including ‘The Will to Improve,’ ‘Powers of Exclusion,’ and ‘Land’s End: Capitalist Relations on an Indigenous Frontier.’ Her current writing project is an ethnography, exploring the forms of social, political, cultural and economic life that emerge in Indonesia’s oil palm plantation zone.
- Learn more about Tania’s work at: https://taniamurrayli.wordpress.com
- The song featured is “Under the Sun” by Mark Pritchard from the album Under the Sun.
- The title card features a photo by Tania Li.