Date of Degree

2-2017

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

Anthropology

Advisor

Michael Blim

Committee Members

Marc Edelman

Gary Wilder

Subject Categories

Political Economy | Social and Cultural Anthropology

Keywords

Jaffna, Sri Lanka, Reconstruction, debt, Caste, Co-operatives

Abstract

Reconstruction of contemporary war-torn societies can lead to further dispossession and social exclusion, particularly through neoliberal development policies and financialized indebtedness. This dissertation analyses post-war reconstruction of the Jaffna District in the Northern Province of Sri Lanka after the end of a brutal three decade long civil war in May 2009, through a survey and ethnographic study of one village, Pathemany and its oppressed caste quarter, Bharathy Veethy. Drawing on a study of Pathemany village on agrarian change before the war, this study addresses contemporary questions about land, rural incomes, rural debt and caste structure. The study evaluates reconstruction policies through analysis of national and regional data and reports, and scrutinizes indebtedness and new forms of dispossession. It situates the failure of reconstruction in Jaffna within a broader frame of historical changes starting in the late colonial period and the current influences of global economic forces including the impact of the Great Recession of 2008.

This work argues that reconstruction policies were an extension of a second wave of neoliberalism in Sri Lanka soon after the war in 2009, which accelerated the liberalization trajectory set by the open economy reforms starting in 1977. An extensive process of financialization with integration of Sri Lanka’s state and private finance with the global capital markets, expansion of credit by national banks and new financial products at the rural level have led to predatory lending and tremendous indebtedness in the countryside. Social institutions and the rural economy in agriculture and fisheries are undermined as development emphasizes infrastructure build-out, credit expansion and self-employment schemes. Reconstruction-led dispossession is leading to outmigration for remittances and contributing to further social exclusion. Caste structure weakened by war-time displacement is strengthening by stealth as public silence on caste relations prevails. The vibrant history of producer co-operatives, including of caste-based occupations in Jaffna, is explored to provide an alternative vision for reconstruction. A critique of the post-conflict discourse of transition reframes reconstruction as a political question, with the war-torn society likely to be shaped by future struggles.

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