Tania Li

Tania Li

Tania Li, Ph.D. (Cambridge University, 1987)
Professor, St. George Campus, Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada (FRSC)

(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

Website: https://taniamurrayli.wordpress.com/

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 prize-winning 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 Plantation Life. It explores the forms of social, political, cultural and economic life that emerge in Indonesia’s oil palm plantation zone. 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. 


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 & Winner of the George T McKahin Prize, Association for Asian Studies 2016  Watch the award presentation here

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 Page Content: Governmentality, Development, and the Practice of Politics. Durham: Duke University Press.

Book Chapters: 

Li, T. (2016) Fixing Non-market Subjects: Governing Land and Population in the Global South. In Governing Practices: Neoliberalism, Governmentality, and the Ethnographic Imaginary Michelle Brady and Randy K. Lippert eds., Toronto, University of Toronto Press, pp80-101 (reprinted from Foucault Studies, 2014)

Li, T. (2016)

Li, T. (2014) ‘A l’abri du marche: Capitalisme, petit producteurs, et solution communautaire’, in Au-delà de l’accaparement: Ruptures et continuités dans l’accès aux ressources naturelles, eds. L. Silva-Castañeda, É. Verhaegen, S. Charlier and A. Ansoms, Bruxelles: P. I. E. Peter Lang.(French translation of CA article on indigeneity and dispossession)


Li, T. (2017). After the land grab: Infrastructural violence and the “Mafia System” in Indonesia’s oil palm plantation zones. Geoforum.

Li, T. (2017). After Development: Surplus Population and the Politics of Entitlement. Development and Change, 48: 1247–1261.

Li, T. (2017). Intergenerational displacement in Indonesia’s oil palm plantation zone.

Li, T. (2017)Rendering land investible: Five notes on time.

Li, T.  (2017)The price of un/freedom: Indonesia’s colonial and contemporary plantation labour regimes. Comparative Studies in Society and History 59(2):245-276

Unfree Labour and Extractive Regimes in Colonial Java and Beyond (book review essay). Development and Change 17(3): 598–611

Li, T. (2017) Henry Bernstein, Wendy Wolford, Haroon Akram-Lodhi. Review forum on Land’s End. Journal of Peasant Studies. 43(4):942-962

Henley, David, Amity Dolitte, Francois Ruf, and Tania Murray Li. (2016)  Debate: Tania Murray Li, Land’s End: Capitalist Relations on an Indigenous Frontier. Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde 172:91-106.

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.

Recent Keynote Lectures/Podcasts


Interview by Oxfam on New trends in Land Inequality.   Spanish subtitles available here.

Presentation at Ceremonia de Inauguracion del ciclo academico 2017 de la Facultad de Ciencias Sociales at the Pontifical Universidad Catolica del Peru.

Presentation on Los actores rurales; De Campesinos a indigenas? at the Pontifical Universidad Catolica del Peru.

Interview on Land’s End book and Food Sovereignty by Boa Monjane

Interview by Oxfam on New trends in Land Inequality: Oxfam speaks with Tania Li

Tania Li On rural transformations and political ecology (1 of 2) at the American Association of Geographers Conference

Tania Li: There is no one trajectory of Development (2 of 2) at the American Association of Geographers Conference.

YTM Palu Workshop on Political Economy: Transforming Access to Resources in Central Sulawesi Indonesia

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)

2014:  Can experts solve poverty?

Graduate Students

Hadia Akhtar Khan

Shozab Raza

Sardar Saadi

Jessika Tremblay

Sam Tait