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Neoliberal Development, Privatizing Nature, and Subaltern Resistance in Bangladesh

Sat, August 12, 2:30 to 3:30pm, Palais des congrès de Montréal, Floor: Level 5, 517B


Transforming the nature into a commodity is a major feature of neoliberal development in the global South. This hegemonic practice has deepened the power of extractive capital and caused dispossession of lands affecting many subaltern communities. Urban activists politicize development in the neoliberal age to organize countermovement. Scholars suggest that Polanyi’s analyses of fictitious commodities offer useful analytical tools to develop a nuanced understanding of these subaltern political struggles. Drawing on the recent scholarship on primitive accumulation, dispossession, and countermovement, this paper will examine the Phulbari Movement in Bangladesh. The movement has been fighting against a British mining corporation, which wants to build an open-cut coal mine. Local communities have been mobilizing strong opposition to this project since its inception in early 2005. An urban radical activist group, known for its anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist activism, is deeply involved in this struggle. Their sustained movement forced the Bangladeshi government to halt the project. During 2005-2016, the movement has influenced national policy discourses and transformed a local subaltern resistance into a broader political struggle against neoliberal globalization and development. This paper will analyze the development of contentious political agency at the grassroots level. Deploying a combination of Gramscian and Freirean perspectives, I will suggest that organic intellectuals immersed in various local, national, and transnational social movements are vital to developing critical consciousness of subaltern actors, who are at the frontline of political struggles. This analysis will contribute to social movement literature by emphasizing the role of “movement intellectuals” in mobilizing political agency.