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Poisoned fruits: agriculture, ecology, and the limits to aspiration in the eastern Himalaya

Beardmore, Lewis (2020) Poisoned fruits: agriculture, ecology, and the limits to aspiration in the eastern Himalaya. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Identification Number: 10.21953/lse.00004259


This thesis examines the case of a rural community in the Indian Himalaya persisting with cardamom monocropping in the wake of crop disease and blight. Stimulated by the substantial returns that cardamom cultivation can bring, and constrained by debt relations, cultivators have weathered pathogenic shocks, only to find themselves facing uncertainty, precarity and curtailed aspirations. The thesis explores the dilemmas of these uncommon rural subjects, whose entanglement in global cash crop markets has brought prosperity and instability. It challenges the assumptions that smallholders will seek to prioritise risk- mitigation over uncertain advancement and that ecological and agricultural crises produce greater economic diversification. The uneven realization of decades of economic growth in India, combined with the prejudice and marginalisation that Himalayan subjects face, means that farming still offers a comparably better livelihood for many individuals. Examining the conditions of households faced with little alternative but to persist with attenuated cultivation, I ask how people come to an accommodation with an agrarian landscape beset with poisons and pathogens. In this community on the Indo-Bhutanese border, labour relations and interspecies entanglements are characterised by ambivalence, neglect and uncertainty, as human and non-human actors choose alternatively to cooperate or withdraw from human projects. New poisons – manufactured alcohol and imported foodstuffs – have reshaped village sociality, and have come to serve as lenses through which interlocutors discuss the vulnerability that has arisen with market engagement. Foregrounding the material and affective relationships that cultivators hold with their crops and the pathogens that predate them, the thesis shows how human lives and livelihoods are entangled with forms of non-human agency. The thesis locates cultivators and their crops within the emerging discourse of the Anthropocene, showing how complex interrelations of human and non-human forces come together in plantation ecologies and global commodity markets in an era of ecological change.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2020 Lewis Beardmore
Library of Congress subject classification: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GN Anthropology
Sets: Departments > Anthropology
Supervisor: Allerton, Catherine and Scott, Michael

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