Agrarian Studies in Sri Lanka A workshop organised by the Social Scientists’ Association (SSA) in collaboration with the Young Researchers’ Network (YRN)- Sri Lanka

Social Scientists’ Association (SSA) has a deep legacy for creating debate and discussion on the agrarian change in Sri Lanka since the 1970s. Therefore with the overall objective of developing an interdisciplinary approach to understand and revive interest in the agrarian question and to kindle interest in study of the agrarian political economy of Sri Lanka among young researchers, a three-day workshop was jointly organised by the SSA and the Young Researchers’ Network (YRN) from 21-23 April 2023 at the Ecumenical Institute for Study and Dialogue (EISD), Colombo 5.

The workshop on its first day featured a panel participation of Dr. Pradeep Pieris, Director, SSA, Dr. Ahilan Kadirgamar from the YRN, Dr. Sepali Kottegoda, Director Programs – Women’s Economic Rights and Media at the Women and Media Collective, Colombo, Chinthaka Rajapakse, Convener, Movement for Land and Agricultural Reform (MONLAR), and Prof. Sumathy Sivamohan, Department of English from the University of Peradeniya. The premise of this panel discussion was that it convened around the 40th anniversary (11-12 April 1983) of the Social Scientists’ Association seminar on ‘Continuity and Change in Peasant Agriculture in Sri Lanka’. The seminar papers were subsequently edited by Charles Abeysekera and published as ‘Capital and Peasant Production: Studies in the continuity and discontinuity of Agrarian Structures in Sri Lanka’ (1985). The panellists provided the participants with some impressions of the context, the politics and ideological debates, and reflections on contemporary times, and insights from their ethnographic experiences on agrarian change and agrarian political economy of Sri Lanka.

On the second day of the workshop, young researchers were introduced to some classical texts by scholars associated with the SSA, Newton Gunasinghe, SBD De Silva, and N Shanmugaratnam. An overview of their professional background, their methodology, main ideas and principal texts, reflection on limitations and relevance were introduced to the participants. Principle texts of these scholars analysed during the workshop included; Sri Lanka’s “New” Economic Policy and Agriculture by N Shanmugaratnam, Capital and Peasant Production – Introduction by Newton Gunasinghe, Plantations and Underdevelopment by S.B.D Silva and Eric Hobsbawm’s introduction to Pre-Capitalist Economic Formations by Karl Marx. The resource persons for the second day of the workshop were Dr. Ahilan Kadirgamar, Balasingham Skanthakumar, Dr. Kalpa Rajapakse, and Dr. Devaka Gunawardene. The third day of the workshop which was moderated by Dr. Ahilan Kadirgamar and Upul Wickramasinghe focused on with groups presenting ideas for future research, with feedback from other groups. A host of themes for further research, discussion, and collaboration were identified by the young researchers on varied topics such as Identity, Politics and Movements, Land and Landlessness, Labor, Accumulation, Markets, New Agrarian Markets, and Alternatives. The workshop was a deeply formative experience for all the young scholars and SSA and YRN look forward to a second workshop in the series to continue engage them with critical thinking and research on agrarian studies in Sri Lanka.  

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