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Harms, Arne (2015): Off the grid. Environmental degradation and citizenship at the margins. Studien aus dem Münchner Institut für Ethnologie – Working papers in social and cultural anthropology, Vol. 15. München [PDF, 340kB]


In this paper, Arne Harms look at political repercussions of environmental degradation at the margins. He addresses these by reflecting on the state-population interface and the latter’s reworking through changes of the material environment and argues that state relations are shaped by a grid of property relations, bureaucratic nodes and material things that comes to be mapped onto a given terrestrial space. It allows for legibility of terrain and its improvement by way of territorialized governance. At the same time, the grid and its nodes may serve as access points to tap into state interventions and to claim citizenship by marginalized populations. Environmental degradations, Harms argues, threaten the grid by displacing bureaucracies, unsettling localized relations or by swallowing seemingly trivial materialities that allow for claims to be made. They may result in dismantling already fraught political relations and threatened claims to citizenship. To corroborate these claims, he offers ethnographic snippets from his doctoral research on some of India’s most vulnerable coasts. In the third part of this paper, Harms outlines new research questions emerging from this predicament. He argues that while environmental degradations may translate into devastated spaces, displaced bureaucracies and unsettled populations, it necessarily involves the re-constitution and re-enactment of political relations by marginalized populations. Metaphorically, he frames this as a re-entering of the grid by populations having fallen off the grid.

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