Society for Economic Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
India's largest port is transforming the Kutch coast in Western India. Its ongoing development is bolstered by 21st-century aspirations of geopolitical ascendency through international trade. On the one hand, conservationist opponents argue that Kutch is an ecologically fragile entity where a five-kilometer long tide replenishes India’s second largest mangroves. On the other hand, port-led endeavors to remake the coast coexist and contend with an ecology of tides, plants, sand-dunes, fish and agropastoral lives. Land acquisitions and concrete highways induced by port development, splinter this diverse landscape as they trigger a cascade of changes across fields, forests, and grazing lands, wrecking certain lives while rebuilding others. Building on 18 months of ethnography, this paper shows how differentiated coastal dwellers – landholding agriculturalists, landless fishworkers, livestock-rearers – negotiate and narrate these changes. Land ownership plays a crucial role in determining who makes the most of port-induced opportunities and who participates in coastal destruction through freshwater and sand extractions. Metonyms, maxims, and metaphors invoke the moral and ecological specificities that preoccupy the different dwellers. They reveal how immediate elements– the sweetness of the seasonal river, saltwater incursion, endangered prawns and migratory birds – are rendered meaningful in human lives while at the same time showing us how these idioms are already laden with practical and political struggles. Through a focus on everyday language and practice, I illuminate the uneven human experiences of living and dying with the coast, a terrain that is otherwise overwrought by the frictions between climate change and global development.