Keynote 1: Capitalist Transformations on Indonesia's Indigenous Frontiers

Panel Time: 
Thursday, June 8, 2017 - 09:00 to 10:00


Tania Murray Li (University of Toronto)


Since colonial times, officials, scholars and advocates have insisted that the core principle of Indonesia's customary land regimes is that tenure is collective and inalienable. They have argued against the commodification of land on the grounds that to treat land as a commodity is to invite the destruction of livelihoods and the shattering of life worlds, the dire fate Karl Polanyi described in The Great Transformation.  Yet for more than a century, Indonesia's indigenous farmers have willingly commodified their own land as they embrace the production of global boom crops (coffee, rubber, cacao, oil palm). The real transformation for them is not commodification but capitalism, which imposes a form of market discipline they cannot escape. Recentering capitalism as a term of analysis exposes the true challenge of defending rural peoples' access to land and livelihoods today.

Tania Murray Li teaches in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Toronto, where she holds the Canada Research Chair in the Political Economy and Culture of Asia. Her publications include Land's End: Capitalist Relations on an Indigenous Frontier (Duke University Press, 2014), Powers of Exclusion: Land Dilemmas in Southeast Asia (with Derek Hall and Philip Hirsch, NUS Press, 2011), The Will to Improve: Governmentality, Development, and the Practice of Politics (Duke University Press, 2007), and many articles on land, labour, development, resource struggles, community, class, and indigeneity with a particular focus on Indonesia.