Land′s End

Capitalist Relations on an Indigenous Frontier

Land′s End

Book Pages: 240 Illustrations: 14 illustrations Published: August 2014

Author: Tania Murray Li

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Asian Studies > Southeast Asia, Geography

Drawing on two decades of ethnographic research in Sulawesi, Indonesia, Tania Murray Li offers an intimate account of the emergence of capitalist relations among indigenous highlanders who privatized their common land to plant a boom crop, cacao. Spurred by the hope of ending their poverty and isolation, some prospered, while others lost their land and struggled to sustain their families. Yet the winners and losers in this transition were not strangers—they were kin and neighbors. Li's richly peopled account takes the reader into the highlanders' world, exploring the dilemmas they faced as sharp inequalities emerged among them.

The book challenges complacent, modernization narratives promoted by development agencies that assume inefficient farmers who lose out in the shift to high-value export crops can find jobs elsewhere. Decades of uneven and often jobless growth in Indonesia meant that for newly landless highlanders, land's end was a dead end. The book also has implications for social movement activists, who seldom attend to instances where enclosure is initiated by farmers rather than coerced by the state or agribusiness corporations. Li's attention to the historical, cultural, and ecological dimensions of this conjuncture demonstrates the power of the ethnographic method and its relevance to theory and practice today.


“Despite the depressing story that it has to tell, Land’s End is a real pleasure to read, a tour de force without a trace of bombast, a model of ethnographic writing for new generations of students and agrarian researchers to follow.” — Ben White, Development and Change

“Every so often we have the privilege of reading a book that, like Tania Li’s Land’s End, radically realigns our thinking on pressing problems. Li combines a nuanced analysis of long-term ethnographic data and a straightforward, yet sophisticated, theoretical framework to prod us to reexamine an issue that is hardly unique to Indonesia: how have landless rural people been left behind in the march toward capitalist agricultural production and market expansion?" — Sarah Lyon, Anthropological Quarterly

“This text adds deep and valuable ethnographic insight to existing narratives of the emergence of capitalist relations in indigenous societies. It rightfully challenges structuralist accounts of primitive accumulation using detailed ethnographic data. As such, it should be read, and likely will be, beyond the borders of development studies and anthropology." — Christopher Webb, Canadian Journal of Development Studies

"Land’s End is book of delicate power, almost a laboratory account of how capital seizes hold and transforms the latticework of social relations through an almost banal process of ‘erosion’, where the bearers of capital, unrecognized, participate in the re-invention of their own ‘subject’ position. … Aided by artful ethnography, Land’s End crafts a strange yet deeply familiar world. Many sedimentary views are felled along the way, gently but firmly. Notions of indigeneity, frontier, custom, moral economy, primitive accumulation, transition, development, and citizenship, all come in for scrutiny and are left rattled.” — Vinay Gidwani, Antipode

"[T]his book is a valuable addition to the interrogation into the nature of capitalist relations and its attendant impact. The significance of Li’s contribution lies in connecting a global pattern of inequality to a set of circumstances that is peculiarly Lauje-an, while giving human faces to a trend that has been quiet and insidious." — Faizah Zakaria, Southeast Asian Studies

"The combination of the ethnographic longevity of her work with the theoretical sophistication of her analysis results in a provocative account of growing inequality and dynamic capitalist relations. The case studies and stories Li relates bring these elements to life, but the implications stretch far beyond the Lauje highlands." — Susan M. Darlington, American Ethnologist

"Land’s End is a very fine book indeed. Tania Murray Li has written one of those studies—all too few in number—which, while empirically focused, builds an argument that will resonate with scholars working across widely differing contexts." — Jonathan Rigg, Pacific Affairs

"Li’s book is powerful in its ability to confront and challenge essentialist conceptions of the relationships between indigenous peoples and nature, the root causes of the development of rural capitalist relations, and the types of political consciousness and resistance that might emerge."
  — Miles Kenney-Lazar, International Development Planning Review

"Land’s End operates at a compelling theoretical interspace very much needed in contemporary accounts of globalization. . . . In short, it’s really good anthropology." — Shane Greene, American Anthropologist

"This is an inspirational book ... in terms of how an ethnography of such a complex process can be conceived and written in terms that are clear, levelheaded, balanced and thorough.... It is also an inspirational book in terms of its concluding argument: for a politics of distribution."
  — Holly High, Oceania

"Land’s End is an engaging and thought-provoking contribution to ongoing debates in international development, agrarian studies, Asian studies, history, geography, and anthropology." — Marina Welker, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

Land’s End is a thorough and compelling piece of ethnographic scholarship. Written in very accessible narrative style, but appropriately grounded in social theory, it is a great read for social scientists, graduate and undergraduate students, rural development practitioners, and inquisitive nonacademics.” — Ramzi Tubbeh, Rural Sociology

"For anyone interested in ongoing dispossession and enduring inequalities, this powerful and compelling book is essential. Tania Murray Li shows how access to land, labor, and food eroded gradually and insidiously for many people, in a manner that undermined oppositional movements." — Gillian Hart, author of Rethinking the South African Crisis: Nationalism, Populism, Hegemony

"Tania Murray Li, one of the foremost scholars of the native peoples, economies, and ecologies of Southeast Asia, here tells the subtle and challenging story of the Lauje, a group who defy cliches of indigeneity and whose destructive involvement in commodity production was willingly embraced. Her analysis complicates our understanding of rural agrarian transformation and the expansion of global capitalism, by showing how this adoption of export tree crops–unlike a century ago in Indonesia’s outer islands–is leading to a literal 'land's end.' The value and power of this volume, based on twenty years of fieldwork, lies in its telling a difficult, nuanced story of the millions who do not fit into easy, pre-existing categories and narratives of modern rural transformation."
— Michael R. Dove, editor of Beyond the Sacred Forest: Complicating Conservation in Southeast Asia

"This is a wonderful book. It may have the biggest general impact of a book centered on Southeast Asian rural social dynamics since James Scott's seminal Weapons of the Weak. With unusual clarity and great persuasiveness, Tania Murray Li explores theoretical and methodological issues through vivid depictions of people's lives." — Henry Bernstein, Professor Emeritus of Development Studies, University of London


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Tania Murray Li is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Toronto, where she holds the Canada Research Chair in the Political-Economy and Culture of Asia. She is the author of The Will to Improve: Governmentality, Development, and the Practice of Politics, also published by Duke University Press; coauthor of Powers of Exclusion: Land Dilemmas in Southeast Asia; and editor of Transforming the Indonesian Uplands: Marginality, Power and Production.

Table of Contents Back to Top


1. Positions

2. Work and Care

3. Enclosure

4. Capitalist Relations

5. Politics, Revisited


Appendix: Dramatis Personae



Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Winner, George McT. Kahin Book Prize (AAS Southeast Asia Council)

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-5705-6 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-5694-3
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