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Subject-making as development: the category 'surplus' in the Rockefeller Foundation India Agricultural Program

Authors: Ilona Moore*, Bucknell University
Topics: Development, Human-Environment Geography, Social Theory
Keywords: Surplus, Green Revolution, development, agriculture, postcolonial
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Recent literature in Geography positions today’s surplus population – i.e. those surplus to the demands of capital and thus precarious in survival itself – within the failures of development to deliver. By highlighting development’s powerful transition narrative that promises a teleological path from the agrarian to modern industrialization, this scholarship expands the historical, conceptual, and policy context, grounding contemporary discussions of surplus population in legacies of development policy and history. Yet, the social science categories that this development teleology relies on – including “surplus,” the rural masses, and the transition itself, have not been adequately attended to. Through the archives of the Rockefeller Foundation India Agricultural Program I trace how the social science categories that were employed in this era operated in a way that created and organized the world around them. Specifically, I examine how these rural development interventions created dynamics transitioning the agrarian majority into today’s surplus population. The category of surplus was prioritized in a way that a concern with rural welfare morphed into, and settled upon, a focus on only the elite members of rural society as the development subjects, the locus of policy attention, and recipients of extensive state support. This is the critical historical juncture in agriculture and development policy today known as the “Green Revolution.” This approach and its categories of thought continue as the template that defines how agricultural development is understood and pursued to this day.

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