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The Monsoon and the Market: Economies of Risk in Rural India

  • Author(s): Matthan, Tanya
  • Advisor(s): Gupta, Akhil
  • et al.
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Abstract

This dissertation examines the social and material life of uncertainty in rural India. Specifically, I examine how cultivators apprehend, manage, and capitalize on the endemic and emerging risks of agriculture in villages of central India. While farmers have always been exposed to the vagaries of climate and market, the emerging uncertainties of anthropogenic climate change and liberalized agri-commodity trade have transformed agriculture into a gamble on the monsoon and the market. Theorizing agriculture as an increasingly speculative enterprise, this dissertation outlines the material and imaginative work this entails, its differentiation across key axes of social inequality, and entanglements with kinship and ritual, patronage and policy, and hierarchy and obligation. Rather than view agriculture through an undifferentiated lens of crisis, decline and nostalgia, this dissertation foregrounds the ways that cultivators forge uneven futures within a changing rural landscape.��

This question of how agrarian risk is shaped by broader political-economic, cultural and environmental processes is grounded in an ethnographic study of everyday agricultural decisions and practices in Malwa, a predominantly agricultural region in western Madhya Pradesh, which has witnessed rapid agrarian transformations over the last two decades. The region’s agricultural growth has been significant, particularly through the cultivation of high-risk, high-value horticultural crops. At the same time, the state government has also been at the forefront of adopting and implementing policies of risk-management, from yield-index insurance to price-support schemes. Against this backdrop, I trace the emergence of moral and political economies of risk and responsibility across five key sites: the monsoon rain, insurance claims, market speculation, groundwater extraction, and caste distinction.

I argue that ideologies of risk have become deeply entrenched in the countryside, tied to legacies of the Green Revolution technology, neoliberal agricultural and an emerging ethic of entrepreneurialism. Across these sites, I show how farmers deploy both religious and secular vocabularies of risk, fate, and destiny to apprehend uncertainty, grapple with the past, and act on the future. Ultimately, I demonstrate how state policies that aim to manage risk actually exacerbate uncertainties and heighten existing inequalities in the countryside, even as they offer novel spaces for capital accumulation, social mobility and political claim-making in the countryside.�

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This item is under embargo until June 10, 2023.