Hengameh Ziai

Grant Type

Dissertation Fieldwork Grant

Institutional Affiliation

Columbia U.

Grant number

Gr. 9484

Approve Date

April 26, 2017

Project Title

Ziai, Hengameh, Columbia U., New York, NY - To aid research on ''The Indebted Peasant': An Ethnography of Neoliberalism in Sudan's Gezira Scheme,' supervised by Dr. Timothy Mitchell

Preliminary abstract: My project investigates attempts to produce neoliberal subjectivity amongst the peasants in the Gezira Agricultural Scheme–the largest irrigated farm in the world under a single management–in northern Sudan. Following falls in global cotton prices in the 1960s, it examines attempts by the World Bank to increase agricultural efficiency on the Gezira Scheme in the 1980s by producing farmers as ‘entrepreneurs’ through its enactment of newly-dominant neoliberal ideas about agricultural development. Through a combination of ethnographic and archival work, I aim to investigate how mass indebtedness emerges as–not just an economic relation but–a mode of political subjectivation, engendering forms of resistance, with long-standing echoes in Sudanese history and particularly traces to the late 19th century Mahdist uprising. I also present an alternative genealogy to present-day understandings of ‘human capital’ as the homoeconomicus of neoliberalism. Largely portrayed as a Western figure, with incomplete and distorted translations and iterations in non-Western settings, I investigate how ideas about human capital originally emerged within the field of development economics and in relation to theorising the role of poor farmers. How were ideas about the peasant as ‘human capital’ subject to early experimentation by the World Bank through the agricultural reforms it implemented on Sudan’s Gezira Scheme in the 1980s? I investigate the ramifications of these experiments–and the mass indebtedness produced–as it plays out in the Gezira plain in the present, producing the counter-point to the West’s ‘indebted man’: the ‘indebted peasant.’