In Plantation Life Tania Murray Li and Pujo Semedi examine the structure and governance of Indonesia's contemporary oil palm plantations in Indonesia, which supply 50 percent of the world's palm oil. They attend to the exploitative nature of plantation life, wherein villagers' well-being is sacrificed in the name of economic development. While plantations are often plagued by ruined ecologies, injury among workers, and a devastating loss of livelihoods for former landholders, small-scale independent farmers produce palm oil more efficiently and with far less damage to life and land. Li and Semedi theorize “corporate occupation” to underscore how massive forms of capitalist production and control over the palm oil industry replicate colonial-style relations that undermine citizenship. In so doing, they question the assumption that corporations are necessary for rural development, contending that the dominance of plantations stems from a political system that privileges corporations.
Preface vii Introduction 1 1. Establishing Plantations 29 2. Holding Workers 59 3. Fragile Plots 90 4. Forms of Life 122 5. Corporate Presence 158 Conclusion 185 Appendix. Collaborative Practices 193 Notes 199 Bibliography 219 Index 239
Tania Murray Li is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Toronto and author of Land's End: Capitalist Relations on an Indigenous Frontier, also published by Duke University Press.
Pujo Semedi is Associate Professor of Anthropology at Universitas Gadjah Mada and author of Close to the Stone, Far from the Throne: The Story of a Javanese Fishing Community, 1820s–1990s.
“Plantation Life is an eye-opening book on many fronts. It offers up an ethnographically and historically rich account of forms of life in Indonesia's corporate plantation zone and has much to give about method, collaboration, and evidence. Tania Murray Li and Pujo Semedi show how the plantation is a presence both fickle and contradictory, at once an occupying force and a source of neglect: occupation and abandonment, order and disorder, theft and calculability, alignment and fracture all coexist in a rough-and-tumble assemblage in which political economy and technologies of power are simultaneously in play. An important book.”
~Michael Watts, Class of '63 Professor, University of California, Berkeley
“Palm oil is one of the most ubiquitous ingredients in consumer products in industrialized countries and the principal driver of landscape transformation in the Indo-Malay tropics. This, the first ethnography of oil palm plantations, convincingly demonstrates that they neither achieve their purported goal of modernizing the rural peasantry nor---remarkably---make money for the corporations involved, a paradox and perversity of modern capitalism. This is a must-read for everyone interested in tropical peoples and environments and the impact on them of consumerism in the global North.”
~Michael R. Dove, author of, Bitter Shade: The Ecological Challenge of Human Consciousness
"A useful primer on oil palm plantations in Indonesia but even more useful for illustrating how ethnographic research can be carried out across borders and languages. Recommended. Undergraduates and two-year program students. Recommended. Undergraduates and two-year program students."
~Z. McLaughlin, Choice
“Rather than the typical colonial pattern of the local Indonesian collecting the data but having little involvement in the analysis or writing, [Plantation Life] involved the constitution of a real partnership in all aspects of the work. . . . Plantation Life represents an important contribution to the literature . . . and has a lot of potential for class adoption.”
~Ian G. Baird, Antipode
“Plantation Life is a pathbreaking book. Its approach to corporate presence as a state-licensed form of occupation represents an advance in the understanding of the forms of violence that emerge in plantation zones. . . . Since the authors critically engaged in joint research and writing, the book also sets the parameters for future developments in the practice of scholarly collaboration.”
~Miryam Nacimento, Journal of Peasant Studies
"Plantation Life stands out with its powerful combination of the depth of intensive ethnographic study and the refreshing conceptualization of corporate occupation and its 'world-making' consequences. Furthermore, for a book written with academic rigour, the flowing storytelling makes it easy to read for everyone."
~Shofwan Al Banna Choiruzzad, Pacific Affairs