Abstract

ABSTRACT:

This article presents ethnographic evidence of the relationship among concepts of home, personhood, and labor on Sri Lanka's tea plantations to argue that Tamil-speaking plantation laborers cultivate practices of place-making and investment that directly challenge the coherence of the plantation as a social and industrial form. From 2008–2015, I conducted 15 months of ethnographic fieldwork in Sri Lanka among Tamil-speaking tea plantation residents. I documented how Sri Lanka's tea plantation workers create and sustain their homes on the plantations through migrant labor and remittance investments. Contrary to former anthropological studies, I found that tea plantation workers in Sri Lanka have and do experience a sense of home—or in Tamil, ūr—on the plantations alongside dispossession and landlessness. This sense of home manifests in two labor-contingent processes. First, tea plantation workers engage in a process of terraforming; they modify living spaces that were previously unlivable to create built environments that are more commensurate with their life desires and pursuits of dignity. My findings present the plantation line room as a living artifact of this process and as evidence of the uneven precarity of landlessness for marginalized agricultural laborers. Second, plantation workers and residents actively seek to delink from the tea plantation as a site of their future labor and value as minority citizens. This process of desiring to distance oneself from the plantation as a site of dispossession—as evident in migrant labor and emerging socio-legal policy shifts around workers' homes—allows us to re-imagine the plantations as key sites of industrial decoloniality in postwar Sri Lanka. Presenting ethnographic evidence, I build and expand upon anthropological debates on the connections between dispossession and personhood and the changing contours of postcolonial labor markets and practices of homemaking and investment among marginalized agricultural laborers.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-1518
Print ISSN
0003-5491
Pages
pp. 635-670
Launched on MUSE
2018-08-24
Open Access
No
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