Mar 13, 2014
The capitalist form of urbanization involves diverse forms of dispossession to facilitate the accumulation process, whether through gentrification within cities or the enclosure of land within zones of agricultural production or resource extraction. Such issues have long been of central concern to scholars of capitalist development, including historians, urbanists and analysts of agrarian change.
In recent years, sociologist Michael Levien, a recent graduate of UC Berkeley's Ph.D. program and now Assistant Professor of Sociology at Johns Hopkins University, has produced a series of path-breaking articles on the problematique of dispossession. This work, which forms the foundation for a widely anticipated book publication, builds upon his years of research on Special Economic Zones (SEZs) in India and articulates a sophisticated critical engagement with the work of David Harvey and the related literatures on enclosure, land grabbing and neoliberalism. Aside from its insights into historical and contemporary transformations in India, Professor Levien's analysis of the neoliberal "land-broker state" has massive implications for comparative studies of dispossession in other national and local contexts around the world.
Professor Levien recently visited the Urban Theory Lab to discuss his ongoing research and to dialogue with us about some shared methodological and thematic agendas. His visit offered us much food for thought about the wide-ranging set of issues associated with dispossession across places and territories. This work is of central importance as we further develop our analyses of urbanization in the Extreme Territories, where we hope to explore more systematically the connections between sociospatial restructuring and dispossession both in historical and contemporary perspective. Thanks, Mike, for a productive and enjoyable visit; we look forward to future dialogues as we work to supersede the increasingly untenable divide between urban studies and agrarian/peasant studies.