Photo: Dolly Kikon

Living with Oil and Coal

Living with Oil and Coal

Resource Politics and Militarization in Northeast India

The nineteenth-century discovery of oil in the eastern Himalayan foothills, together with the establishment of tea plantations and other extractive industries, continues to have a profound impact on life in the region. In the Indian states of Assam and Nagaland, everyday militarization, violence, and the scramble for natural resources regulate the lives of Naga, Ahom, and Adivasi people, as well as migrants from elsewhere in the region, as they struggle to find peace and work.

Dolly Kikon uses in-depth ethnographic accounts to address the complexity of Northeast India, a region between Southeast Asia and China where boundaries and borders are made, disputed, and maintained. Bringing a fresh and exciting direction to borderland studies, she explores the social bonds established through practices of resource extraction and the tensions these relations generate, focusing on peoples’ love for the landscape and for the state, as well as for family, friends, and neighbours. Living with Oil and Coal illuminates questions of citizenship, social justice, and environmental politics that are shared by communities worldwide.

Living with Oil and Coal

Resource Politics and Militarization in Northeast India

Published 2019, University of Washington Press, Seattle, US

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  • Kikon has crafted the book skilfully with her narrative writing style. This book also brings into the forefront what kind of challenges a researcher face while doing fieldwork in a highly militarised zone in a democratic country. The author skilfully teases out the contradictions of the Indian state and its authoritative control over its citizen in the Northeast, which has been influenced by ruthless extractive capitalism. This book is an essential reading for those who want to understand the complex state-society dynamics in Northeast India.
    Souvik Lal Chakraborty, Monash University
  • Rooted in the classic themes of political anthropology such as citizenship, sovereignty and borders, it is the first “multi-perspective resource ethnography” of the militarized extractive regime in the region, a place where lives and livelihoods traverse and transgress multiple borders: between hills and valleys, between the two Indian states of Assam and Nagaland, and between a number of ethnic groups and armed insurgencies… Kikon’s writing evocatively captures the intricacies and intimacies of daily life on this militarized resource frontier, drawing from stories, oral histories, and local myths, in spaces ranging from coal mines to oil rigs, rice fields to weekly markets and military checkpoints. Throughout, the book remains focused on the fragile and contested intimacies forged through trade, labor sharing, and love affairs across boundaries that are at once social, political, and ecological… Kikon is interested in mapping… the messy connections and entanglements that make extraction possible… break new ground for resource ethnography through their detailed ethnographic attention to specific social worlds of extraction. Probing distinct social and ecological landscapes, they vividly demonstrate the often violent collisions and entanglements between extractive operations and the social lives of local residents – despite industry attempts at detachment and disentanglement… Kikon offers a textured account of the intimate life-worlds of extraction.
    -Tanya Matthan, University of California
  • Living with Oil and Coal is a beautiful and gripping account of the intimate layers of life, violence and sovereignty pattered throughout the militarised carbon landscape of the foothills of Assam and Nagaland in North East India. In a vibrant and rich ethnographic study of this resource frontier in the Eastern Himalayan foothills, Dolly Kikon explores the social, political and legal bounds that are forged through and in the wake of practices of resource extraction… As an excellent example of how spaces of resource extraction are produced, this book reminds us that it is with minute attention to details and the irreducibility of life that we may best understand the worlds we walk. Maybe the most significant contribution offered by this book is thus a critical re-description of the resource frontier of Northeast India as a densely heterogenous space… It opens new political horizons along attentiveness and care to place in Northeast India and other extractive frontiers alike, holding on to rather than collapsing the layers of violence embedded in the everyday life of the foothills… As an account that par excellence avoids reduction, Living with Oil and Coal may be grouped with a tradition of rich postcolonial scholarship that re-defines the possibilities of the world by telling it through its details.
    Tim Lindgren, University of Melbourne
  • Kikon beautifully utilises stories as a heuristic device to enable an understanding of a carbon-affected region… A major theme of this ethnography is its exploration of state-society relations… Kikon’s ethnography is rich, diverse, and makes an engaging read…
    Swargajyoti Gohain, Ashoka University
  • Living with Oil & Coal is a wonderful book that adds much-needed depth and detail to our understanding of how people create place and belonging while navigating the expansion of the global market to extract oil and coal from their land. This is a versatile book that would be accessible for undergraduate audiences, yet contains complexity that would be of great interest for graduate audiences and scholars as well. Highly recommended.
    CJ Appleton, Portland State University
  • Kikon’s absorbing account on a militarized carbon landscape would stand out because of the novel ways in which violence, friendship and love are examined in their multiple, complex and textured manifestations…. Kikon must be commended for her authoritative and innovative ways of understanding the militarized carbon landscape not only as a violent space, but also as a thriving space of symbols, meanings, and people’s accounts and connections with the land.
    Kham Khan Suan Hausing, Professor, University of Hyderabad
  • In Living with Oil and Coal: Resource Politics and Militarization in Northeast India, anthropologist Dolly Kikon offers a rich account of life in the midst of a landscape defined by multiple overlapping extractive industries and plantation economies, and of the social relations through which a resource frontier comes into being.
    – New Books in Anthropology podcast


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