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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Desakota in Kerala: Space and political economy in Southwest India Casinader, Rex A


McGee in his recent writings on Asian urbanization highlights extended metropolitan regions and proximate non-urban settlement systems with an intense mixture of agricultural and non-agricultural activities. The latter McGee terms as desakota, a neologism coined in Bahasa Indonesian, to signify the fusion of desa (rural) and kota (urban). Some of the ecological preconditions for desakota are high rural population densities; labour intensive rice cultivation with agricultural labourers in need of non-farm work in the off seasons and/or labour shedding by green revolution effects. McGee however recognizes that desakota can also occur in other ecologically dense habitat of non-rice crops with high population densities. Kerala State in India is one such region with a mix of rice and non-rice crops. This study examines the urban-rural fusion that is observed in Kerala and provides an empirically informed assessment of the McGee desakota hypothesis. While basically affirming the desakota hypothesis, the study at the same time raises some caveats. First, desakota in Kerala is not dependent on any central urban system and intra-desakota dynamics are significant. While M c G e e has recognized that such desakota do occur, his writings tend to neglect this type of desakota. Second, McGee's writings on extended metropolitan regions and desakota are increasingly associated with the recent rapid e c o n o m i c growth occurring in some of the Asian countries. Desakota in Kerala blurs this characteristic as it appears to have occurred beginning in the late colonial p e r i o d of the British Raj. Third, a unique mix of factors in Kerala make the political economy central to making desakota in Kerala intelligible. Undoubtedly in the specificity of the Kerala context the political economy is important. Nonetheless this study raises a critique of the underemphasis of the political economy in McGee's work on extended metropolitan regions and desakota. The research on desakota in Kerala involved the examination of the regional geography of Kerala. Kerala with its radical politics and remarkable social development in a context of low economic growth, attracted the attention of social scientists. But in these studies the spatial dimensions were largely ignored. This study emphasizes that geography matters in understanding Kerala, and that there is an important nexus between the space and political economy of Kerala.

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