'A Life Wasted Making Dust': Affective Histories of Dearth, Debt and Farmers' Suicides in India

E. Shah*

*Corresponding author for this work

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A significant number of farmers committing suicides in various parts of India are routinely attributed to agrarian crisis. The crisis is further related to the structural transformations induced by globalisation and liberalization and the resulting forms of scarcities or shortages, for example, prices, growth, and resources. I contend in this essay that the framework of economic rationality is insufficient to explain why a disturbingly high number of middle farmers are taking their lives. This essay is an attempt to provide an alternative explanation of the suicides by undertaking a study of the affective histories of scarcities. It argues that for the suicides whether scarcity actually exists is less relevant than how the idea of scarcity is articulated in affective responses. The affective histories explain the way in which suicides and the wider feelings of rural alienation relate to the fear of pauperization. This fear relates to the bounded imagination of the self and the other, glued by a long history of deeply ingrained ideologies of hierarchy. If farmers' suicides point to any crisis, it is the crisis of lack of alternative political and cultural imagination emerging from a rounded critique of all forms of social injustice and violence.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1159-1179
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Peasant Studies
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2012


  • affective histories
  • farmers' suicides
  • fear of pauperisation
  • politics of scarcity

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