Seeing Like A Neoliberal State? Authoritarian High Modernism, Commercialization and Governmentality in Rwanda's Agricultural Reform

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Huggins, Christopher




Rwanda’s contemporary agricultural reform fits the criteria in James C. Scott’s book, Seeing Like a State for an authoritarian high modernist project, as it involves the ambitious administrative re-ordering of nature and society according to transformative state simplifications, significant coercion, and marginalization of smallholder farmer preferences and indigenous knowledge. However, with its heterogeneous networks of state and non-state actors and processes of commercialization, the reform differs from the monolithic state projects in Scott (1998). Rwandan state policies have been
described as ‘liberalizing’ and ‘neoliberal’.
The dissertation examines whether increased involvement of commercial non-state actors in agricultural reform in Rwanda has an effect on processes of spatial and institutional homogenisation and coercion. I also investigate the ways in which discourses and practices of (neo)liberalism in the agricultural sector intersect with state efforts to mould ideas of citizenship, development, and governance.
Based on fieldwork in two districts of Rwanda in 2011 and 2013, and with reference to Foucauldian and Marxian concepts, I contend that although
the government of Rwanda has incorporated neo-liberal policy tools into its administrative structures, this does not necessarily result in ‘liberalization’. Increased involvement of non-state actors can reinforce processes of spatial and institutional homogenisation and coercion, such as imposition of obligatory land use consolidation and government-approved commercial crops. The introduction of private profit-making mechanisms into state-directed systems characterised by coercion have provided material incentives for state and non-state actors to continue to use coercive measures to increase
sales (e.g. of fertiliser).
The dissertation shows that the Rwandan state aims to create a new kind of Rwandan citizen, an entrepreneurial ‘modern farmer’ compliant with state policies, and fully integrated into commercial commodity-chains. Entrepreneurship, subjection to restrictive government policies, and patriotism are discursively intertwined, despite the tensions and contradictions this involves. These relationships are especially explicit in some geo-spatial contexts which represent ‘spaces of governance’ with particular characteristics. I also identify an emerging subject-type that
incorporates elements of the state’s ideal development subject and farmer notions of resistance. By significantly extending Scott’s framework, the dissertation gives it new relevance to analysis of complex and heterogeneous authoritarian projects involving commercialization.


Public Administration




Carleton University

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