Tania Li

Photo of Prof. Tania LiTania Li, Ph.D. (Cambridge University, 1987), Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada (FRSC)
Professor, St. George Campus; Canada Research Chair in the Political-Economy and Culture of Asia; Director, Centre for Southeast Asian Studies
(416) 946-3693
Office: AP 424

Research Keywords: Economy, development, poverty, land, work,  welfare, agriculture, resources, community, class,  indigeneity, capitalism

Research Region: Indonesia, Southeast Asia, Asia

Tania Li’s Curriculum Vitae

Tania Li’s Book Website – Land’s End: Capitalist Relations on an Indigenous Frontier. – Winner of the American Ethnological Society (AES) Senior Book Prize, 2016. Watch the award presentation here.

Powers of Exclusion: Land Dilemmas in Southeast Asia Book Website (National University of Singapore Press, 2011)

Research Bio

Tania Li’s early research in Southeast Asia concerned urban cultural politics in Singapore. Since then she has focused on culture, economy, environment, and development in Indonesia’s upland regions. She has written about the rise of Indonesia’s indigenous peoples’ movement, land reform, rural class formation, struggles over the forests and conservation, community resource management, and state-organized resettlement. Her book The Will to Improve explores a century of interventions by colonial and contemporary officials, missionaries, development experts and activists. Powers of Exclusion examines agrarian transition to see what happens to farmers’ access to  land in the context of competing land uses (e.g. conservation, urban sprawl, plantation agriculture). Her forthcoming book Land’s End tracks the emergence of capitalist relations among indigenous highlanders when they enclosed their common land. Her current writing project is an ethnography provisionally titled Living with Oil Palm. It explores the forms of social, political, cultural and economic life that emerge among people in the orbit of this massively expanding plantation crop. Future work will focus on the problems faced by people who are pushed off the land in contexts where they have little or no access to waged employment.

Click here to access the working papers from the Challenges of the Agrarian Transition in Southeast Asia (ChATSEA) Research Project on TSpace. 

Book Cover of Land's EndRecent Publications

2014. Land’s End: Capitalist Relations on an Indigenous Frontier. Duke University Press. [Book Flyer] Winner of the American Ethnological Society Senior Book Prize, 2016

2011  (co-authored with Derek Hall and Philip Hirsch) Powers of Exclusion: Land Dilemmas  in Southeast Asia, University of Hawaii Press/National University of Singapore Press. [Review by Keith Barney] [Book Flyer]

2007  The Will to Improve: Governmentality, Development, and the Practice of Politics. Durham: Duke University Press.

Book Chapters:
2011 Why so fast? Rapid Class Differentiation in Upland Sulawesi. In Jonathan Rigg and Peter Vandergeest (Eds) Revisiting Rural Places: Pathways to Poverty and Prosperity in Southeast Asia. National University of Singapore Press/University of Hawaii Press, pp 193-210.

2011  Postscript: Towards a Conjunctural Analysis. In T. Sikor, N. P. Tuyen, J. Sowerwine and J. Romm. Upland Transformations in Vietnam, Singapore, National University of Singapore Press: 259-261.

2011 Rendering Society Technical: Government Through Community and the Ethnographic Turn at the World Bank in Indonesia. In David Mosse (Ed.) Adventures in Aidland: The Anthropology of Professionals in International Development. Oxford: Berghahn pp57-80.


2015   Governing rural Indonesia: convergence on the project system. Critical Policy Studies. DOI: 10.1080/19460171.2015.1098553

2015 Transnational Farmland Investment: A Risky Business. Journal of Agrarian Change, 15 (4):560-568.

2014   What is Land? Assembling a Resource for Global Investment. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 39(4): 589-602.

2014  Can there be Food Sovereignty Here? Journal of Peasant Studies DOI: 10.1080/03066150.2014.938058

2014   Fixing Non-market Subjects: Governing Land and Population in the Global South. Foucault Studies, 18: 34-48

2014  Involution’s Dynamic Others. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, NS: 20: 276-292.

2013  Anthropological Engagements with Development / Les engagements anthropologiques vis-à-vis du développement. Anthropologie & développement 37-38-39: 227-256

2013  Jobless Growth and the Relative Surplus Population. Guest editorial. Anthropology Today 29(3):2-3.

2013  Insistently Seeking Social Incorporation: Comment.” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute. 19: 252-3.

2011  Centering Labor in the Land Grab Debate. Journal of Peasant Studies 38(2): 281-298.

2010  Indigeneity, Capitalism, and the Management of DispossessionCurrent Anthropology 51(3): 385-414.

2009  To Make Live or Let Die? Rural Dispossession and the Protection of Surplus Populations. Antipode 14(6):1208-1235.

2007  Practices of Assemblage and Community Forest Management.  Economy and Society 36(2): 263-293.

Recent Keynote Lectures/Podcasts

November 2016. American Ethnological Society 2016 Senior Book Prize Presentation (Watch here)

October 2016. Capitalism from Above and Below. Al Berry Lecture in Critical Development Studies, University of Toronto Scarborough (Watch here)

October 2016. Critical Development Studies Interview with Prof. Tania Li, University of Toronto Scarborough.  (Watch here)

September 2016. After development: surplus population and the politics of entitlement. Development Studies Association Annual Conference, Oxford (Watch here)

September 2016. Interview: After development: surplus population and the politics of entitlement. Professor Tania Li in conversation with Murat Arsel, co-chair, Development and Change. (Watch here)

September 6, 2016. Presentation at the EU Parliamentary Hearing on the Threats of Palm Oil Production. (Watch here; skip to 2:25:42 in video)

April 13, 2016. Commodification, Capitalism and Counter-Movements: Perspectives from South east Asia.  Global Development Institute, Manchester University. (Listen and Read Blog Post)

October 29, 2015.  Land’s End: Capitalist Relations on an Indigenous Frontier. Taaffe-Human Geography Colloquium, Ohio State University. (View YouTube Video)

March 13, 2015. After the Land Grab: Infrastructural violence and the monopoly system in Indonesia’s oil palm plantation zone, Pôle Foncier Conference. (View YouTube Video)

June 12, 2014. Moving Encounters. Part 2 of Interview with Tania Li about Land’s End, by Lukas Ley. (Click to listen)

June 4, 2014. Interview with Tania Li about Land’s End, by Lukas Ley. (Click to listen)

February 20, 2014. Tania Li on Food Sovereignty: A Critical Dialogue. Agrarian Justice Conference at the Transnational Institute. (Click here to watch)

June 24, 2013. Tania Li on What is Land? Making-up a Resource at Society in the Anthropocene Conference, University of Bristol. (Click here to view presentation slides.) (Click here to listen)

April 26-27, 2013. Keynote Lecture. “Asian Futures, Old and New.” York Centre for Asian Research International Graduate Student Conference. (View YouTube Video)

October 17-19, 2012. Tania Li speaking at the ‘big questions’ panel at Global Land Grabbing II Conference  (Click here to view video)

October 17-19, 2012. Tania Li on Large-Scale Land Acquisitions and Plantation Agriculture, interview at the 2nd International Conference on Land Grabbing, Cornell University (Click here)

April 6, 2011 Plenary Panel, International Conference on Global Land Grabbing (View YouTube Video)

February, 2010 CCIG Keynote Lecture. “To Make Live or Let Die” (View YouTube Video)

February 5, 2010 Anthropology Seminar: Indigenous Capitalism in Upland Indonesia. (Click here to download audio podcast)

Graduate Students

Photo of Jessika Tremblay
Jessika Tremblay
Photo of Lukas Ley
Lukas Ley
Photo of Sardar Saadi
Sardar Saadi
photo of Shozab Raza
Shozab Raza
photo of Sam Tait
Sam Tait