Current Institutional Affiliation
Associate Professor, Graduate Program in International Relations, St. Mary's University

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 1998
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Anthropology, Harvard University
The Politics of Survival: Squatting, Democracy, and the Nepalese State

Like many countries in the world, Nepal currently faces the dual challenge of sustaining democracy while simultaneously addressing population growth, landlessness and other factors contributing to endemic poverty. Using the 1990 demise of Nepal's centuries old absolute monarchy as a critical historical juncture, my project seeks to examine the impact of multi-party politics on squatting, or illegal land occupancy. Since most squatting is occurring on state property, squatting is a particularly revealing lens through which to investigate any changes in the relationship between the Nepalese state, her citizenry and claims to land. My central hypothesis is that the shift to a democratic form of governance in 1990 was accompanied by a transformation in the underlying arguments and strategies legitimizing the squatters' claims to land, specifically an increased sense of autonomy and entitlement An especially important area of investigation is an exploration into whether this sense of entitlement was generated primarily by expanded avenues for popular participation or by such factors as government instability. My research seeks to nuance citizen perceptions of democracy and how these changed perceptions act as a catalyst for squatting. I propose to investigate this topic for ten months in Swatantranagar in Banke District in Western Nepal, with an additional two months of fieldwork at the ministerial level in Kathmandu. A careful and detailed examination of squatting in a precise location at a critical historic moment will bring into relief broader issues of governance, citizen responses and perceptions of legitimacy that can serve to enhance the understanding of and relationship between democratization and development efforts in Nepal and other recently democratized nations, especially those in the developing world.