Mindset and Modernity: Working through Nostalgia and Reverie in Rwanda

Authors: Justin Mullikin*, Rutgers University
Topics: Development, Qualitative Research, Cultural and Political Ecology
Keywords: Affective labor, agrarian change, place-making, Rwanda
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/11/2021
Start / End Time: 9:35 AM / 10:50 AM
Room: Virtual 33
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


My work explores agrarian transformation in Rwanda brought about by the state’s land use consolidation policy. Over the last 15 years this policy has worked to increase the state’s legibility of, and control over, rural space Rwanda by mandating Green Revolution-style modes of production on most of the country’s agricultural land. In most places it is now mandatory for entire communities to use chemical fertilizers, to “harmonize” their agricultural activities in line with state preferences, and to consolidate small plots of land for mono-cropping of state-approved cultivars.

Drawing from recently completed dissertation research, my paper looks at tensions between state modernization discourse, the changing agricultural landscape, and the attempted creation of particular citizen-subjects. What emerged from my team’s interviews with local government officials and agrarian communities was a diversity of competing, often contradictory, narratives about the past, present, and future of rural lives and landscapes in Rwanda.

This paper explores some of the themes we encountered as people grapple with a fast-changing landscape. These often focused less on the mechanisms of change, and more on the affective nature of change. Often dismissed by agricultural development policy and academic literature alike, some of the most prominent narratives of change involved shifting feelings of nostalgia, reverie, loss, hope, and solidarity. Taking these themes seriously - understanding how people in farming communities experience and are affected by change - is a necessary first step to advance more inclusive and just agricultural development research, policy, and discourse.

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