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TitleCapitalist Transformation and the Evolution of Civil Society in a South Indian Fishery
LanguageEnglish
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Capitalist Transformation and the Evolution of Civil Society

in a South Indian Fishery

Aparna Sundar

Doctor of Philosophy

Political Science
University of Toronto

2010

Abstract

This thesis employs Karl Polanyi’s concept of the double-movement of capitalism to trace the

trajectory of a social movement that arose in response to capitalist transformation in the fishery

of Kanyakumari district, south India. Beginning in the 1980s, this counter-movement militantly

asserted community control over marine resources, arguing that intensified production for new

markets should be subordinated to the social imperatives of subsistence and equity. Two decades

later, the ambition of “embedding” the market within the community had yielded instead to an

adaptation to the market in the language of “professionalization,” self-help, and caste uplift.

Polanyi is useful for identifying the constituency for a counter-movement against the market, but

tells us little about the social or political complexities of constructing such a movement. To

locate the reasons for the decline of the counter-movement in Kanyakumari, I turn therefore to an

empirical observation of the civil society within which the counter-movement arose. In doing

this, I argue against Partha Chatterjee’s influential view that civil society as a conceptual

category does not apply to “popular politics in most of the world,” and is not useful for tracing

non-European, post-colonial, and subaltern modernities. By contrast, my case shows the presence

of civil society – as a sphere of autonomous and routinized association and publicity – among

subaltern groups in rural India. I argue that it is precisely by locating the counter-movement of

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