I’ve written extremely briefly on Accumulation By Dispossession in contemporary Cambodia previously.
A definition of Accumulation By Dispossession from Wikipedia:
Accumulation by dispossession is a concept presented by the Marxist geographer David Harvey, which defines the neoliberal capitalist policies in many western nations, from the 1970s and to the present day, as resulting in a centralization of wealth and power in the hands of a few by dispossessing the public of their wealth or land. These neoliberal policies are guided mainly by four practices: privatization, financialization, management and manipulation of crises, and state redistributions.
David Harvey, who invented the term, can probably do the best job explaining it:
There appears to be an irony here: the term Accumulation By Dispossession is in many ways an an attempt to update Marx’s Primitive Accumulation for the neo-Liberal era. By “Primitive,” Marx mean “originary,” as an answer to the question, “where did the employing class get the wealth necessary to invest in the creation of means of production such as factories?” The term was not intended as pejorative but is certainly received as such by many; given the history of supposedly ‘civilized’ groups’ actions towards supposed ‘primitives,’ the dislike of the term is easily understandable.
Regardless, Harvey’s reworking of “Primitive Accumulation” into Accumulation By Dispossession describes some modern neo-liberal practices very well, but it seems to lose the ability to capture precisely the dynamics that Marx was describing in the Enclosure Movement in England: how did individuals get enough wealth in order to found companies and build factories? Once one has a corporation, Accumulation By Dispossession describes things nicely. But what about cases where it’s not primarily large corporations doing the dispossessing?
One of the hardest questions to answer when considering the question of accumulation by dispossession is how the individuals doing the dispossessing justify it to themselves. How does one justify actions typically considered theft by one’s neighbors, whom one is often dispossessing? It’s easier to comprehend, I suppose, if it’s a large corporate exploitation or colonial exploitation. Is the model of accumulation by dispossession flexible enough to describe a process like the one that Pamela McElwee writes about in her book, Forests are Gold: Trees, People and Environmental Rule in Vietnam (2016, University of Washington Press).
I haven’t read the book yet, but am always interested in questions where labor and environment come together, especially in Southeast Asia. This podcast episode, from the New Books in Anthropology podcast, part of the New Books Network, features Nick Cheesman interviewing McElwee. Shortly after the 50 min point, the conversation takes a fascinating turn, when McElwee starts discussing precisely the problem above: when semi-local individuals are the prime movers in Accumulation By Dispossession.