Book Project

A Green Revolution: Political Consequences of Technological Change in Agriculture

On the path to becoming "modern" industrialized societies, all countries have to go through prior agricultural revolutions. In my book project I ask: as a form of "creative destruction" does technological change in agriculture also disrupt the distribution of political power in society? If so, who gains political power and who loses it? And to what extent do these changes revolutionize political institutions such as regimes and party systems?

I explore these questions in the context of one of the major agricultural technological revolutions of the twentieth century: the green revolution. Focusing on India, the book project looks at how the spread of a new crop technology, high-yielding variety (HYV) crops, between the 1960s and 1980s revolutionized not only agriculture but also politics in India, contributing to growing political mobilization by a new class of upwardly mobile, commercial farmers -- increasingly exposed to state-determined price and subsidy policies -- seeking to protect and advance their interests through the political system.

Because these rising rural interests failed to find representation in the entrenched urban and upper-caste leadership of India’s dominant Congress party, they mobilized behind new regional and agrarian challenger parties, which played a critical role in the decline of single-party dominance and transition to multi-party competition – an important episode of democratization. On the other hand, though HYV crops increased rural inequality by benefiting landowners to a greater extent that they did the rural poor, this did not produce a communist revolution in the countryside as some observers initially feared.

From the case of the green revolution, I develop a theory about how technological change in agriculture can profoundly transform political systems. The book compares states within India as well as the Indian case to other historical examples and discusses why sometimes agricultural revolutions bring about political revolutions and why in other cases the new interests generated by technological change are absorbed into established parties and regimes.

The book concludes by discussing how agricultural revolutions of the past have "made" modern politics and the role of technological change in political development more generally.

To learn more, please check out an article published in the APSR here and a brief summary at Ideas for India here as well as a talk here on part of the book project at the Center for the Advanced Study of India.