Interests: Political economy, social theory, critical development studies, gender, agrarian and regional studies, labor, Southern Africa, Southeast Asia
Writing in a fascist prison in the late 1920s and early 1930s, the Italian revolutionary and intellectual Antonio Gramsci issued an eloquent warning about the twin dangers of economism and voluntarism. My own work is deeply informed by Gramscis challenge: how do we steer a course between the economism that only one thing is possible and the voluntarism that anything is possible so as to illuminate concrete possibilities for social change?
In grappling with this question, I have paid particular attention to how in-depth ethnographic studies and what I call relational comparisons can do critical work, both analytically and politically. I began my academic career doing battle with economistic and Eurocentric understandings of agrarian change in Java, Bangladesh, and Malaysia. Questions of gender and power figure prominently in this work. More recent research is in my native South Africa, where I have traced divergent post-apartheid dynamics in two towns and adjacent townships, and their connections with East Asia. In Disabling Globalization: Places of Power in Post-Apartheid South Africa (University of California Press, 2002) I draw on this work to engage critically with discourses of globalization, and explore alternatives to neoliberalism. I have also become increasingly fascinated by the possibilities of journalism, contributing to debates over the future of post-apartheid South Africa in a series of newspaper articles.
Critical understandings of development theories and practices form another of my interests and concerns, and I serve as Chair of the Development Studies undergraduate major. As an Adjunct Professor at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, I participate in a research cluster program with South African graduate students. I am also working collaboratively with a group of South African and Indonesian scholars and activists to explore the rise of agrarian movements in post-apartheid South Africa and post-Suharto Indonesia, and the connections they are forging with one another.
Grappling with Populism. Amandla Issue # 4, October/November 2008.
Entries on Apartheid, Economic Integration, Ethnography, and Settler Societies. In D. Gregory et al. (eds) The Dictionary of Human Geography (5th Edition). Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 2008.
"The Provocations of Neo-liberalism: Contesting the Nation and Liberation after Apartheid." Antipode vol. 40, no. 4, 2008.
"Pedagogy, Politics, and Playing with Fire." Social & Cultural Geography vol. 9, no.2, 2008.
"Changing Concepts of Articulation: Political Stakes in South Africa Today." Review of African Political Economy, no. 111, March 2007. Reprinted in P. Bond (ed.) Transcending Two Economies. Special issue of Africanus, January 2008.
The New Poor Laws and the Crisis of Local Government, Amandla vol 2, 2007.
Denaturalizing Dispossession: Critical Ethnography in the Age of Resurgent Imperialism, Antipode, vol.38, no. 5, 2006.
Post-Apartheid Developments in Comparative and Historical Perspective, in V. Padayachee (ed) The First Decade of Development and Democracy in South Africa. Pretoria: HSRC Press, 2006.
"Revisiting Rural Java: Agrarian Research in the Wake of Reformasi," Indonesia no. 80, 2005 (with Nancy Peluso).
Redefining Agrarian Power: Resurgent Agrarian Movements in West Java, Indonesia, University of California, Center for Southeast Asian Studies, September 2005 (with S. Afif, N. Fauzi, L. Ntsebeza, & N. Peluso). http://repositories.cdlib.org/cseas
Power, Labor, and Livelihood: Notes and Reflections on a Village Revisited, University of California International and Area Studies Global Field Notes, Paper no.2, December 2004. http://repositories.cdlib.org/ucias/gfn/2
Beyond the Urban-Rural Divide: Linking Land, Labour, and Livelihoods, Transformation, vol 55. 2004 (with Ari Sitas).
Reworking Apartheid Legacies: Export Production, Gender, and Social Wages in South Africa, 1980-2000, in R. Pearson and S. Razavi (eds) Globalization, Export-Oriented Employment and Social Policy: Gendered Connections. Houndsmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.
Development and Geography: Critical Ethnography, Progress in Human Geography, vol. 28, no. 1, 2004.
Linking Land, Labour, and Livelihood Struggles, South African Labour Bulletin, vol. 23, no. 6, 2002.
Development/s after Neoliberalism: Culture, Power, Political Economy, Progress in Human Geography vol. 26, no.6, 2002.
Disabling Globalization: Places of Power in Post-Apartheid South Africa. University of California Press and University of Natal Press, 2002.