Tania Li

Tania Li is Professor of anthropology at the University of Toronto (Canada). Her fellowship at the Montpellier Advanced Knowledge Institute on Transitions runs from 1 September 2023 to 30 June 2024.


Tania Li’s early research in Southeast Asia concerned urban cultural politics in Singapore. Since then she has focused on culture, economy, environment, and development in Indonesia’s upland regions. She has written about the rise of Indonesia’s indigenous peoples’ movement, land reform, rural class formation, struggles over the forests and conservation, community resource management, state-organized resettlement and the problems faced by people who are pushed off the land in contexts where they have little or no access to waged employment. Her book The Will to Improve explores a century of interventions by colonial and contemporary officials, missionaries, development experts and activists. Powers of Exclusion examines agrarian transition to see what happens to farmers’ access to land in the context of competing land uses (e.g. conservation, urban sprawl, plantation agriculture). Her prize-winning book Land’s End tracks the emergence of capitalist relations among indigenous highlanders when they enclosed their common land. Plantation Life explores the forms of social, political, cultural and economic life that emerge in Indonesia’s oil palm plantation zone. 

Research interests :

  • Development;
  • Agrarian class formation;
  • Indigeneity;
  • Capitalism;
  • Plantation corporations

Project: Socio-spatial and environmental (in)justice and citizenship in rural areas of the global South: A comparative perspective

The scientific purpose of the project is to advance a novel conceptualization of socio-spatial and environmental justice that is grounded in the empirical findings of researchers with experience in diverse contexts in the global south. Core elements of this conceptualization include a focus on access to land as a key dimension of justice, and an explicit focus on how justice relates to different conceptualizations of the state and citizenship.

Our aim is to draw together a group of scholars who will put into dialogue their research findings from different contexts where issues of socio-spatial and environmental justice arise. Three principal questions will guide the comparative inquiry.

  1. What is ‘justice’ from the point of view of our interlocutors?
  2. How do local actors seek a response to socio-spatial and environmental injustices?
  3. What is the role of the state in resolving problems of injustice?

Why a fellowship in Montpellier?

My research project was co-designed with colleagues from the research unit Knowledge, Environment, Societies (SENS). We meet regularly to discuss key literature, pool our knowledge of different regions; develop a concept paper; and deepen our individual case studies through structured, inter-regional comparison. We have scheduled events to seek feedback from the wider UMR-SENS community and Makit scholars, and we have planned an international colloquium, scheduled for April 25-26, which will be open to the public. After that we expect to move towards a publication.

This fellowship in Montpellier is possible thanks to the programme French Institutes for Advanced Study – cofunded from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No 945408.

Recent publications on Tania’s ORCID profile include: