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Landscapes of Accumulation

Real Estate and the Neoliberal Imagination in Contemporary India

Landscapes of Accumulation

Real Estate and the Neoliberal Imagination in Contemporary India

Over the past few decades, India has experienced a sudden and spectacular urban transformation. Gleaming business complexes encroach on fields and villages. Giant condominium communities offer gated security, indoor gyms, and pristine pools. Spacious, air-conditioned malls have sprung up alongside open-air markets.
In Landscapes of Accumulation, Llerena Guiu Searle examines India’s booming developments and offers a nuanced ethnographic treatment of late capitalism. India’s land, she shows, is rapidly transforming from a site of agricultural and industrial production to an international financial resource. Drawing on intensive fieldwork with investors, developers, real estate agents, and others, Searle documents the new private sector partnerships and practices that are transforming India’s built environment, as well as widely shared stories of growth and development that themselves create self-fulfilling prophecies of success. As a result, India’s cities are becoming ever more inaccessible to the country’s poor. Landscapes of Accumulation will be a welcome contribution to the international study of neoliberalism, finance, and urban development and will be of particular interest to those studying rapid—and perhaps unsustainable—development across the Global South.

304 pages | 19 halftones, 2 line drawings, 7 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2016

South Asia Across the Disciplines

Anthropology: Cultural and Social Anthropology

Asian Studies: General Asian Studies, South Asia


"Landscapes of Accumulation is a tremendous work showcasing years of ethnographic research that Searle conducted in the National Capital Region of northern India. In each chapter, she further illuminates an aspect of the commodification of Indian land, of the development of infrastructure in India intended not to make life better for Indians but instead to fill the pockets of international financiers (and their local cronies on the ground in India). As a whole, the book is one of the more damning portraits of the mechanisms through which capitalism distorts humanity, shackling humans with sociopolitical structures that define personhood as commodity. We are what we buy."

Spectrum Culture

"Presents an ethnographic analysis of the encounter between international investors and their Indian intermediaries as they attempt to produce an international market in Indian land and buildings....Explores the agency of investors who worked to enroll Indian developers who could negotiate local politics and regulations in order to make Indian land and buildings into standardized products that could be traded abroad."

Journal of Economic Literature

Landscapes of Accumulation is excellent—original, highly engaging, and on an important topic that currently lacks much quality scholarship. Searle particularly excels at posing key questions through her captivating narratives. This book clarifies a complex production process—it truly is fascinating research.”

Michael Goldman, University of Minnesota

“Fluently written and based on substantial ethnographic work in the NCR and other Indian cities, Landscapes of Accumulation adds to our understanding of the global workings of capital by showing us how its actors work to create a discourse that renders a putatively foreign context like India into legible terms. It will interest scholars of South Asian cities, but also urban anthropologists, geographers, sociologists, historians, and scholars of capitalism. Searle has produced a clear, excellent book that addresses a crucial agent in India’s transformation: the real estate industry.”

Nikhil Rao, Wellesley College

“In this brilliant ethnography, Searle convincingly demonstrates the contested and uneven process by which real estate is transformed into a commodity for the global market place. In this process, narratives of the future meet speculative ambitions as Indian builders and multinational real estate companies court and clash over transparency, quality, and profits. This book will appeal to students in a wide range of disciplines: urban planning, geography, anthropology, sociology, and political science.”

Akhil Gupta, University of California, Los Angeles

"The builder and the broker, as Searle astutely notes, have been more or less absent from much recent work on South Asian cities, and in positioning this text in critical conversation with these movers and makers of capital she provides a much-needed comment on the ways in which neo-liberal finance is rapidly transforming Indian land into a global retail commodity."

Table of Contents

Money Terms

Introduction: Building Stories
Chapter One: Routes of Accumulation

Part One: Speculating on Indian Futures

Chapter Two: The India Story
Chapter Three: Betting on the Future
Chapter Four: Constructing Consumer India

Part Two: Conflict and Commensuration

Chapter Five: Transparency and Control
Chapter Six: Developers’ Quest for Credibility and Capital
Chapter Seven: Quality Projects I: Constructing Authority
Chapter Eight: Quality Projects II: Transforming Practices

Conclusion: The “India Story” Revisited

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