Accepted paper:

Multiple ontologies, land struggles and agonistic democratic politics: the Dongria Kondh and Vedanta in Odisha, India


Samantha Balaton-Chrimes (Deakin University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores the way in which civil society intermediaries practice ‘controlled equivocation’ to make space for agonistic disagreement between adivasi Dongria Kondh people, and Vedanta Aluminium in India.

Paper long abstract:

Across the developing world, vulnerable and marginalized communities are engaged in struggles with government, corporations and development agencies over land. In these struggles, many indigenous communities attempt to assert non-dominant ontologies of land, and non-dominant understandings of appropriate ways to decide upon access to, control, use and ownership of land. These ontologies often collapse the nature/culture distinction that is distinctive of western modernity, and require not multiculturalism, but multi-naturism. Such struggles call for an agonistic approach to disagreement that engages rather than neutralises conflict. Yet, disputes involving ontological difference also test the limits of agonistic political theory in operationalizing an embrace of dissent and disagreement: How is this to take place when different parties are not talking about the same thing? Drawing on a case study of the Dongria Kondh adivasi community of Odisha, in Eastern India, and their (ultimately successful) struggle to prevent mining company Vedanta from acquiring their sacred mountain, Niyamgiri, this paper explores the role of controlled equivocation from civil society intermediaries in facilitating an agonistic engagement not only of a conflict of interests, but a conflict of ontologies.

panel Land02
Moral horizons of land and place