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In Pursuit of Quality: The Politics of Expertise and Transforming Agrarian Geographies in India

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This dissertation examines the making and un-making of expertise as it unfolds over the socio-economic geographies in India that grow Flue-Cured Virginia (FCV) tobacco. Specifically, the dissertation studies the work of agrarian experts of the Tobacco Board who work to improve the quality of this lucrative cash crop used in the manufacturing of cigarettes. Agrarian experts at the Tobacco Board have to take into account the layered topography that includes farmers’ costs of production and livelihoods, volatile international markets, and unpredictable agro-climatic patterns, in their research and development. Backed by the authority of the state, the experts’ tendency to render technical masks the structural inequalities that undergird agrarian relations in India.This dissertation argues that experts have to put tremendous amounts of work into sustaining capitalist markets for a cash crop that increasingly benefits fewer and fewer numbers of people. An ethnography of technical interventions, this dissertation studies the role of expertise in maintaining the delicate balance of this market ecology at a historical moment when the Indian government is gradually withdrawing its significant infrastructural investments in the cultivation of the crop.

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This item is under embargo until March 18, 2024.