My book, Dispossession Without Development: Land Grabs in Neoliberal India was published by Oxford University Press in 2018.


Since the mid-2000s, India has been beset by widespread farmer protests against land dispossession. Dispossession Without Development demonstrates that beneath these conflicts lay a profound shift in regimes of dispossession. While the postcolonial Indian state dispossessed land mostly for public-sector industry and infrastructure, since the 1990s state governments have become land brokers for private real estate capital. Using the case of a village in Rajasthan that was dispossessed for a private Special Economic Zone, the book ethnographically illustrates the exclusionary trajectory of capitalism driving dispossession in contemporary India. Taking us into the lives of diverse villagers in “Rajpura,” the book meticulously documents the destruction of agricultural livelihoods, the marginalization of rural labor, the spatial uneveness of infrastructure provision, and the dramatic consequences of real estate speculation for social inequality and village politics. Illuminating the structural underpinnings of land struggles in contemporary India, this book will resonate in any place where “land grabs” have fueled conflict in recent years.


Winner of Global Development Studies Book Award, International Studies Association

Winner of Sociology of Development Section Outstanding Book Award, American Sociological Association

Winner of Global and Transnational Sociology Section Best Book Award, American Sociological Association

Winner of Political Economy of World System (PEWS) Section Distinguished Book Award, American Sociological Association

Honorable Mention, Asia and Asian-America Section Book Award, American Sociological Association

Praise for Dispossession Without Development

“This book offers a novel analysis of the mechanisms and consequences of economic dispossession. Based on long-term ethnographic immersion, Levien shows how peasants are maneuvered into giving up their land. This is a must read for anyone interested in development and markets-destined to become a classic of political economy.” – Michael Burawoy, Professor of Sociology, University of California, Berkeley

“Levien shows precisely how state land acquisition in the name of development impoverishes the vulnerable, amplifies inequalities, and fractures collective identities. Amidst the self-congratulatory clamor around the story of India ascendant, when tall claims triumph over facts, this sober and compelling book is all the more valuable.” – Amita Baviskar, Professor of Sociology, Institute of Economic Growth, Delhi

“This is a masterful study of how macro forces are refracted through local dynamics of caste, class, and gender to produce inequality. It stands out not only as a seminal theoretical statement on the sociology of land dispossession, but also as critical to our understanding of the on-the-ground effects of development in contemporary India.” – Patrick Heller, Professor of Sociology and International Affairs, Brown University

Dispossession without Development is a tour de force, establishing a new benchmark for a critical sociology of postcolonial societies. Levien combines immersive ethnography with analytical rigor to show the devolution of the Indian developmental state into a land-broker. This is historically informed public sociology at its finest.” – Manu Goswami, Associate Professor of History, NYU

“Across the world, people are increasingly being dispossessed from their land. How can we understand the processes and the forces behind all this? How do existing theories of dispossession explain this phenomenon? As countries integrate into the global economy, or pursue economic development, is displacement and dispossession inevitable? Michael Levien’s book, Dispossession without Development: Land Grabs in Neoliberal India, not only answers some of the questions above, it does so through a rich, grounded analysis of the mechanisms and outcomes of dispossession in rural India. Most importantly, it offers a conceptual lens to explore, compare, and understand the relationship between dispossession and capitalism…. Levien’s book is a highly recommended read for anyone interested in the topic, and one of the most comprehensive and insightful works that I have read on contemporary forms of dispossession in the global South.” – Fizzah Sajjad in Jamhoor.

“An instant classic in political economy…. This ground-breaking book is a must read for anyone interested in agrarian political economy, a critical sociology of postcolonial societies and the politics of land and development in contemporary global South.” – Satendra Kumar, Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla, in The Wire


Jan Breman. 2019. “Development’s Shadow,” New Left Review