MSAS Seminar: TT22, wk 1: Fashioning Subjects: From Farmer, to Soldier, to Patriot

Convener: Nayanika Mathur

Speaker: Thiruni Kelegama (CSASP/OSGA)


The imagination of the frontier as "empty" (of civilization) but "full" (of resources) not only allows for the making of a particular landscape, it also helps create and make a certain kind of subject (Bridge 2001; Eilenberg 2014; Korf et al 2013; Li 2014; Tsing 2005; Watts 1992). This paper traces how the postcolonial Sri Lankan state expanded to the northeast Dry Zone frontier by adopting a high-modernist development model, which was driven by an objective to bring "development" to the country at large and the peripheries in particular, and its post-war revival in 2009 in spite of the programme having being considered a failure. I argue that state beneficence in the form of development - the Mahaveli Development Project - manifests itself in the Dry Zone frontier through the giving of "gifts" of land to create peasant colonies in Sri Lanka. Through a discussion of how a "development gift" (Yeh, 2013) of land helps a beneficiary to become a rice farmer and binds him to the state, I trace how the peasant farmer becomes vital for the presence of the state in the frontier. The paper concludes by demonstrating how the Mahaveli Development Programme, while failing as a development project, is an overall success as it was and is yet being used to claim the frontier and to fashion a certain kind of subject who enables the postcolonial state territorialisation agenda.


Thiruni Kelegama is Departmental Lecturer in the Contemporary South Asian Studies Programme at the Oxford School of Global the Area Studies, University of Oxford, and researches political  infrastructural transformations triggered by development in the Global South, especially in Sri Lanka.


All are welcome!



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The South Asia Seminar is co-funded by the Ashmolean Museum, the Asian Studies Centre of St Antony’s College, the Contemporary South Asian Studies Programme at the Oxford School of Global and Area Studies, the Department for International Development and Faculty of History and the Faculty of Oriental Studies.