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Land and languor: ethical imaginations of work and forest in northeast Madagascar

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Since the early twentieth century, the practice of slash-and-burn agriculture by Betsimisaraka subsistence farmers of eastern Madagascar, and their reluctance to engage in wage labor processes, have been interpreted by French and other Malagasy people as symptoms Betsimisaraka laziness. Colonial officials' idea of remedying Betsimisaraka laziness justified the imposition of wage work and forest conservation. The paper argues that colonial settlers, by conflating their vision of lazy labor and a victimized landscape, did not apprehend the co-existence of an alternative work ethic which entailed a different time-space orientation and social relationship to land. While scholars have analyzed the "laziness" of colonial subjects as a form of subaltern resistance to colonial domination, resistance alone does not account for the fact that under certain conditions Betsimisaraka people have also willingly partaken in wage labor. This article reveals how the labor and land ethics of Betsimisaraka farmers have actively contributed to the social and natural environments of capitalism.
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Keywords: Madagascar; conservation; ethics; labor; land; resistance

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: December 1, 2004

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