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To Make Live or Let Die? Rural Dispossession and the Protection of Surplus Populations

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A biopolitics of the population, when it succeeds in securing life and wellbeing, is surely worth having. It has become urgent in rural Asia, where a new round of enclosures has dispossessed large numbers of people from access to land as a way to sustain their own lives, and neoliberal policies have curtailed programs that once helped to sustain rural populations. At the same time, new jobs in manufacturing have not emerged to absorb this population. They are thus “surplus” to the needs of capital, and not plausibly described as a labour reserve. Who, then, would act to keep these people alive, and why would they act? I examine this question by contrasting a conjuncture in India, where a make live program has been assembled under the rubric of the “right to food”, and Indonesia, where the massacre of the organized left in 1965 has left dispossessed populations radically exposed.

Keywords: Asia; biopolitics; governmentality; labour; land; social protection

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Department of Anthropology, University of Toronto, Canada;, Email:

Publication date: January 1, 2010

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