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Tania Li – 2024 Killam Prize

Social Sciences

University of Toronto

Tania Li is currently a professor in the Anthropology Department at the University of Toronto.

Although the world is urbanizing, at least half the population of Asia continues to live in rural areas under conditions that continue to evolve. Focused on Indonesia, Li’s multi-decade field-based research examines the changing rural scene from two angles. In her book Land’s End she explores how family farmers and Indigenous people adapt to new markets, generating change from below; in Plantation Life she examines changes generated from above, and the challenges faced by rural people when large corporations occupy vast areas of land for plantations but offer few jobs.

Li’s most significant book, The Will to Improve: Governmentality, Development, and the Practice of Politics, is a remarkable account of development in action. Casting a critical eye on expert-driven development schemes that pay scant attention to local knowledge and livelihood practices, it has become a foundational work in the field of development studies. Translated into Indonesian and French, it is taught in universities worldwide. Li has also published articles in top journals spanning anthropology, geography, and Asian studies. Eight of her articles have become field-defining papers.

Multiple international prizes, awards and keynote invitations in Asia, Europe and the Americas recognize the scope and importance of Li’s research, her interdisciplinary reach, and her remarkable skills as a public speaker and writer. Beyond academia, Li is often invited to speak to development practitioners, state officials, and activists in land and Indigenous rights, environmental, and social justice organizations in Indonesia and beyond.

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