Worldliness as Decolonization

Upcoming Events

Friday, November 24, 2017

12:00PM – 2:00PM

Department of Anthropology, AP246
19 Russel St
Toronto, M5S2S2

Abstract: The foundational demand of the new student movement that emerged at South African universities in 2015 is the decolonisation of education and the university. For some this has seemed an anachronistic demand, drawing on an older register of politics from the struggles for independence from colonial rule in the 1940s-60s. Yet the students’ invocation of the term has been an attempt to define not only an ongoing colonial paradigm in curriculum and knowledge production at universities, but also to diagnose a problem in the relationship between university and the social context in which it operates. Conversations about how to respond to this demand have been varied, but one rich seam of conversation has been to interpret decolonisation as a claim on worldliness, on how disciplinary and departmental life can open into a different kind of relationship with students’ lives, with the social contexts in which the university as institution functions, and with anti-hegemonic practice.

Speaker: Kelly Gillespie is Chair of the Department of Anthropology at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits). She is a political and legal anthropologist with a research focus on criminal justice in South Africa, and is particularly concerned with the ways in which criminal justice has become a vector for the continuation of apartheid relations. She also writes and teaches about urbanism, sexualities, race and the praxis of social justice. She co-founded the Johannesburg Workshop in Theory and Criticism (JWTC), an experimental project based in Johannesburg tasked with recrafting the work of critical theory beyond the global north. Dr Gillespie also works beyond the university in popular education projects supporting a range of social justice formations in Southern Africa.

Co-sponsored by the Development Seminar and the Anthropology Colloquium, Department of Anthropology at the University of Toronto

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Neoliberalism’s Commodifications

Past Events

Friday, November 03, 2017

12:00PM – 2:00PM

Department of Anthropology, AP367
19 Russel St
Toronto, M5S2S2

Abstract: The idea that the world is moving towards, or has already arrived at, a condition often referred to as “the commodification of everything” has become a staple of media, activist, and scholarly commentary in the early 21st century. Critical political economists have variously identified the commodification of everything as an empirical condition characteristic of mature capitalism, as a structural tendency inherent to capitalist social relations, and as an neoliberal ideological project. In this talk, I challenge the idea that universal commodification is a neoliberal goal in two ways: by inquiring into what the implications of the existence of markets for everything would be for market relations themselves, and by asking why it is that neoliberal states and international institutions criminalize and pathologize a wide range of markets that have flourished in some non-neoliberal societies. I focus in particular on possible markets in some of the most fundamental elements of human societies, including violence, power, and credentials, and draw on empirical evidence from early modern Europe and contemporary Eastern Asia.

Speaker: Derek Hall is Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science and the Balsillie School of International Affairs at Wilfrid Laurier University. His research interests include the political economy of food, agriculture, land and the environment in Eastern Asia, and the theory and history of capitalism. He is the author of Land (Polity, 2013) and, with Philip Hirsch and Tania Murray Li, of Powers of Exclusion: Land Dilemmas in Southeast Asia (NUS Press and University of Hawai’i Press, 2011). In 2009-10 he was an S.V. Ciriacy-Wantrup Research Fellow at the University of California Berkeley.

Co-sponsored by the Development Seminar and the Centre for South East Asian Studies in the Asian Institute at the University of Toronto


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Twitter Handle: @utdevsem, hashtag #devsem




Past Events

Friday, September 29, 2017

12:00PM – 2:00PM

University College, Room 179
15 King’s College Circle
Toronto, M5S3H7

Culture has been frequently mentioned as an explanation for Asian successes in economic development. Typical is the comment by Samuel Huntington, the author of the controversial book, The Clash of Civilisations, offered as an explanation of the economic divergence between South Korea and Ghana, two countries that were at similar levels of economic development in the 1960s, argued: “Undoubtedly, many factors played a role, but … culture had to be a large part of the explanation. South Koreans valued thrift, investment, hard work, education, organisation, and discipline. Ghanaians had different values. In short, cultures count”.
In this talk, Ha-Joon Chang will argue that those arguments trying to explain international differences in economic development in terms of cultural differences are often ignorant, usually fail to take a dynamic view of culture, and are invariably based on simplistic theories.

Professor Ha-Joon Chang is the economist at the University of Cambridge. In addition to numerous journal articles and book chapters, he has published 16 authored books (five co-authored) and 10 edited books. His main books include The Political Economy of Industrial Policy (Palgrave Macmillan UK, 1996), Kicking Away the Ladder (Anthem Pr, 2002), Bad Samaritans (Bloomsbury Press, 2009), 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism (Bloomsbury Press, 2012), and Economics: The User’s Guide (Bloomsbury Press, 2014). By 2018, his writings will have been translated and published in 41 languages and 44 countries. Worldwide, his books have sold 2 million copies. He is the winner of the 2003 Gunnar Myrdal Prize and the 2005 Wassily Leontief Prize. He was ranked no. 9 in the Prospect magazine’s World Thinkers 2014 poll.



Ha-Joon Chang
Economist & Author Reader, Department of Political Economy of Development, University of Cambridge

Nick Li
Assistant Professor, Department of Economics, University of Toronto

Paul Kingston
Director, Political Science and IDS, University of Toronto

Main Sponsor

Asian Institute


Centre for Critical Development Studies, UTSC

Development Seminar at University of Toronto

Department of Political Science, UTSG

A Remittance Forest in Java; Turning Migrant Labour into Agrarian Capital

Past Events

Development Seminar co-sponsored by Centre for Southeast Asian Studies, Munk School of Global Affairs

Prof. Nancy Lee Peluso (Henry J. Vaux Distinguished Professor of Forest Policy at Berkeley University of California)

March 31st, 12-2pm,

AP 246, 19 Russell St.

Lunch will be served in the Faculty Lounge at 12:00pm; Talk begins at 12:30pm.

Register here:

Entangled Territories in Small-scale Gold Frontiers: Labor Practices, Property, and Secrets in Indonesian Gold Country

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Entangled Territories in Small-scale Gold Frontiers: Labor Practices, Property, and Secrets in Indonesian Gold Country

Prof. Nancy Lee Peluso (Henry J. Vaux Distinguished Professor of Forest Policy at Berkeley University of California)

Co-sponsored by the Development Seminar and the Centre for Southeast Asian Studies.

March 31st, 3-5pm
AP246, 19 Russell Street.
Small-scale gold mining territories emerge at the nexus of land use, property, and labor relations in some of Indonesian Borneo’s most vibrant and populated spaces, entangling state actors while sitting comfortably beyond the reach of formal state authority. Based on seven months of field research in a key gold-producing region of West Kalimantan, I argue that gold’s presence, discovery, and informal extraction creates resource frontiers, and that within these frontiers, mining labor, property relations, and gold mining-related secret knowledges converge to generate resource territories. While development practitioners, agrarian scholars, and government officials represent mining sites as chaotic and lacking institutional order, I show that a clearly understood organization of life and work animates the territorial subjects and territorialized spaces that small-scale mining populates in both urban and rural mining territories. The article challenges views of territory and territorialization as an imposition of government on the people and resources within spatial boundaries. Territories with no formalized boundaries   in Indonesian gold country emerge through specific production practices engaging labor, resource access, and situated knowledges. The complex entanglements of legalities and illegalities suggest that smallholder gold production spaces are ungovernable through centralized state regulatory institutions.

This is a discussion-based workshop, based on prior reading of Prof. Peluso’s paper. Please register here. To obtain a copy of the paper, please contact


Caste, Class and Capital: The Social and Political Origins of Economic Policy in India

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Caste, Class and Capital: The Social and Political Origins of Economic Policy in India

March 17th, 12-2pm


What are the political and social conditions conducive to growth-oriented policies in poor democracies? This talk (based on a forthcoming book) addresses this consequential question by focusing on a specific empirical puzzle – policy variation across Indian states in the competition for private industrial investment, a phenomenon that came to the fore after the country adopted market reforms in 1991. Through the analysis of investment policies, I offer an explanation that links social identity, class and economic policy outcomes in India. My findings suggest that governments that have been most proactive in the competition for investment in India have been backed by narrow class coalitions that are unrepresentative of the broader, largely poor electorate. Moreover, in some Indian states, pro-business policies have been accompanied by identity politics and illiberal trends. I suggest that this coincidence is not accidental. Rather, it reflects an underlying political problem that has characterized India’s high-growth phase and arises from the nature of its growth model. Specifically, a model of growth that relies on attracting private capital in the midst of poor electorates and results in uneven benefits has an affinity with exclusionary political trends. As such, the findings offer a sobering perspective on the prospects for a virtuous cycle of growth and democratic politics in India.

Kanta Murali is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Toronto. Her research interests include comparative political economy of development, Indian politics, politics of growth and economic policy, state capacity, state formation, state-business relations and labor policy. Her book, Caste, Class and Capital: The Social and Political Origins of Economic Policy in India, is forthcoming with Cambridge University Press. She holds a Ph.D. in Politics from Princeton University and an M.Sc in Development Studies from the London School of Economics and Political Science.

Register here.

Going West and Going Out: Discourse, migrants and models in Chinese development

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Going West and Going Out: Discourse, migrants and models in Chinese development

Emily Yeh

March 15th, 3-5pm


In 1999, China announced the launching of the Open up the West campaign, sometimes called “Going West,” to help western China finally catch up to the much wealthier eastern, coastal areas after several decades of lagging behind. The same year, China also announced a “Going Out” strategy, to encourage Chinese investment abroad.  The fifteen years since then have witnessed dramatic Chinese government investment in various development activities in western regions of China, as well as around the world. Though rarely considered together,  there are significant parallels in development discourse, the centrality of physical infrastructure, the characteristics of Chinese labor migration and the nature of migrant-local relations, and the application of “models from elsewhere” in Going West and Going Out.  In this talk, I draw on field research in Tibet and a review of the secondary literature on “China abroad” to examine these parallels, which I argue  can help shed light on Chinese development discourse and practice, as China becomes increasingly important in the field of development once dominated by Western countries.  Finally, I briefly consider direct connections and convergences between the two strategies in China’s neighboring countries of Asia and in the One Belt One Road initiative, and some reflections more broadly on China’s development and investment abroad in Asia.

Emily T. Yeh is a professor and department chair of Geography at the University of Colorado Boulder.  She conducts research on development and nature-society relations in Tibetan parts of the PRC, including projects on conflicts over access to natural resources, the relationship between ideologies of nature and nation, the political ecology of pastoral environment and development policies, and emerging environmental subjectivities.  Her book Taming Tibet: Landscape Transformation and the Gift of Chinese Development (Cornell University Press 2013), which explores the intersection of political economy and cultural politics of development as a project of state territorialization, was awarded the E. Gene Smith Book Prize on Inner Asia in 2015.  She is also co-editor with Chris Coggins of Mapping Shangrila: Contested Landscapes in the Sino-Tibetan Borderlands, and with Kevin O’Brien and Ye Jingzhong of Rural Politics in Contemporary China

Register here.

Food systems and sovereignty: Exploring geographies of uneven development in the Caribbean

Past Events

Food systems and sovereignty: Exploring geographies of uneven development in the Caribbean

Marion Werner

Jan. 13th at 3-5pm


This paper considers broader debates on food sovereignty and uneven development in relation to the Dominican Republic’s food system. The Dominican state plays a central role in the country’s food production relative to many of its neighbours in the Caribbean, a region highly exposed to international market regulation of food and agriculture. The form of the state’s involvement was forged through right-wing land reforms of the late 1960s and early 1970s, which incorporated some 30,000 households into domestic rice production. Today, these “reform sector” farmers, together with their private sector counterparts, meet the country’s entire demand for this staple crop. Rice production is characterized by intensive use of imported agro-chemicals, a largely Haitian migrant workforce, state subsidies to irrigation, a government-funded warehousing and insurance scheme, and, crucially, a protected market. Dominican rice production clearly plays a role in materializing state sovereignty in the context of a regulatory patchwork formally dominated by international markets and multinational corporations. As the country begins the process of lowering tariff barriers for rice and other sensitive food items under the provisions of a free trade agreement (i.e., DR-CAFTA), the paper offers a basis for the consideration of food sovereignty in the context of uneven regulatory development.

Marion Werner is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Geography at the University at Buffalo, SUNY. Her research is located at the nexus of critical development studies, feminist theory, and political economy with a focus on Latin America and the Caribbean. She brings these theoretical perspectives to her work on the economic restructuring of export industries, the gender and racial politics of labor, and, more recently, agro-food systems and development policy. Her work has appeared in several journals including Gender, Place and Culture, Antipode, Economic Geography, Environment and Planning A, and Development and Change.  Her book, Global Displacements: The making of uneven development in the Caribbean (Wiley-Blackwell, 2016) reveals how uneven development is reproduced by capital and the everyday aspirations of people incorporated into and excluded from circuits of accumulation.  Dr. Werner’s current research project explores changing forms of regulation in Caribbean food systems, and is supported by an early career grant from the Regional Studies Association. 

Register here.

Gendered Mobilities in the Making: Moving from a Pedestrian to Vehicular Mobility Regime in Shimshal, Pakistan

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Gendered Mobilities in the Making: Moving from a Pedestrian to Vehicular Mobility Regime in Shimshal, Pakistan

Nancy Cook, Department of Sociology, Brock University

David Butz, Department of Geography, Brock University

November 25th at 12-2pm


This talk focuses on gendered mobilities in Shimshal, Pakistan, which until recently have taken shape in the context of a pedestrian mobility regime. As vehicular mobilities have replaced pedestrian mobilities with the construction of the Shimshal road, the gender and mobility relationship has transformed. We explore this transformation by analysing aspects of socio-spatial context that have shaped gendered pedestrian mobilities, followed by those associated with the new vehicular mobility regime that are modifying gender relations in Shimshal. Shifting gender relations simultaneously reshape corporeal mobility patterns. Road infrastructure has enhanced men’s and youth’s outbound travel as wage earners and students respectively. These mobilities have relationally reshaped women’s capacity to move, constraining their mobility beyond the village. As prosperity becomes contingent on outbound movement, men’s and youths’ social horizons and mobilities are expanding contemporaneously while women’s compromised access to mobility as a social resource produces new mobility hierarchies and gendered exclusions. We assess these social implications of infrastructure development in terms of mobility justice.

David Butz is professor in the Department of Geography and interdisciplinary graduateprograms in Social Justice and Equity Studies and Popular Culture at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario. He serves as Editor-in-chief of Studies in Social Justice, and sits on the Faculty Steering Committee of the Social Justice Research Institute. David has been conducting ethnographic research in mountainous Northern Pakistan since 1988.

Nancy Cook is associate professor in Brock University’s Department of Sociology and MA program in Social Justice and Equity Studies, and an affiliate of the Social Justice Research Institute. Her ethnographic research in Northern Pakistan has focused on transcultural interactions between development workers from the global North and local populations.

They are currently collaborating on two mobility-related research projects in the Gilgit-Baltistan region of Northern Pakistan. The first is an analysis of the differential mobility implications of a recently constructed jeep road linking Shimshal village to the Karakoram Highway, the region’s arterial roadway. The second focuses on experiences of demobilisation in the aftermath of a massive 2010 landslide that destroyed over 20 kilometres of the Karakoram Highway, leaving 20,000 people in several dozen villages without vehicular access to market towns or lowland areas. These projects have prompted them to think about the social implications of infrastructure development and failure in terms of mobility justice.


Register here.

Farmland Moves: Black Earth Narratives, Geopolitics and the Symbolical Dimensions of Farmland Investment

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Farmland Moves: Black Earth Narratives, Geopolitics and the Symbolical Dimensions of Farmland Investment

Oane Visser

Oct 7th

Professor Oane Visser, a visiting scholar at the Department of Geography and Planning, University of Toronto, studies land deals, financialisation, rural development, labour and social movements. His work has appeared in such venues as Journal of Peasant Studies, Journal of Agrarian Change, Agriculture & Human Values, Globalizations, and European Journal of Sociology. He is currently Principal Investigator of a European Research Council (ERC) project on land acquisitions in Russia and an editor of Focaal- Journal of Global and Historical Anthropology. Professor Visser will address the ‘global land grab’- the sharp rise in investments in farmland since the mid-2000s–by drawing on theories of financialization, nature and assemblages, to explicate in particular the symbolic-discursive dimension of the turning of natural resources into financial assets.


Tea, Coffee and Cookies will be served.