Playing with Time: The Temporalities of Agrarian Change and Climate Instability in Rural India

Seminar in Critical Development Studies co-hosted by Cornell Global Development and the Graduate Field of Development Studies


Agricultural practices across rural India have changed markedly over the last two decades as smallholder farmers have variously embraced, resisted or simply been swept up in processes of commercialisation, financialisation and intensification. As the recent literature shows, such trends are interlaced with new forms of social polarisation, the recrafting of rural hierarchies, and patterns of environmental change. What has been less closely examined is how the experience of time has been reshaped within these settings. In this seminar, Marcus Taylor draws on fieldwork conducted across three villages in rural Maharashtra to elaborate how the diverse yet interlocking temporalities of agrarian life have grown in complexity and importance. Alongside the increasingly unreliable seasonal patterns of weather, farmers proactively seek to manage the changing cyclical rhythms of commodity markets; the pressing obligations of expansive credit and debt relations; the ebb and flow of labour availability and absence; the shifting cycles of pests and other agroecological processes; and the ever-present calendars of culturally vital festivals and social events. Success or failure as an agriculturalist increasingly depends on the strategies smallholder farmers employ to manage these temporalities and ensure that they do not fall out of synch. Yet the relative ability of farmers to ‘play with time’ is limited by the power relationships that shape key determinants of rural life such as access to land, labour, credit, water and knowledge. Pointedly, the failure of recent policy initiatives – including a major World Bank sponsored climate resilient agriculture initiative in the region – to acknowledge these temporal determinants of agrarian life has led to a range of unanticipated and profoundly troubling outcomes that policymakers are keen to silence.

About the speaker:

Marcus Taylor is a Professor and Head of the Department of Global Development Studies at Queen’s University, Kingston, Canada. He researches and teaches on agriculture, rural development and livelihoods. His books include The Political Ecology of Climate Change Adaptation (Routledge 2015) and Global Labour Studies (Polity Press, 2018) and he is currently completing a volume on Climate Smart Agriculture: A Critical Perspective that includes case studies of new agricultural technologies and management practices across the Indian states of Telangana, Karnataka and Maharashtra. He is a contributing author to a chapter of the IPCC AR6 Working Group 2 on climate-resilient development and his written policy briefs for organisations including the OECD and NORAD.

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