Ethnographic investigations of commercial aquaculture as a rural development technique in Tamil Nadu, India

Brittany Louise Kiessling, Florida International University


Since the 1960s, international aid organizations and governments have invested millions of dollars in promoting aquaculture as a way to stimulate local economies and improve food security. India is one such country, incorporating aquaculture research and extension programs as part of their development plans as early as 1971. India’s aquaculture promotion efforts gained momentum in 2004, following the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004. The government sees aquaculture as a post-disaster development tool and a method to increase community resilience in rural areas of India. Aquaculture currently constitutes nearly half of global seafood production today. Due to this importance, and the attention such practices receive through funding and extension, many scholars have focused on the social impacts that aquaculture practices have on rural communities. In particular, scholars have investigated the effects of aquaculture on environmental conditions, food security, livelihoods, gender relations, and social conflict. However, more scholarship is needed concerning the historical legacies that have contributed to how aquaculture is promoted and practiced, particularly connections to the Green Revolution. Furthermore, there needs to be more research about commercial aquaculture as a post-disaster development strategy. My research – based on 9 months of ethnographic fieldwork and archival analysis in Tamil Nadu, India – contributes to this body of literature. I synthesized post-development theory with that of environmental risk and vulnerability, building upon the work of scholars such as James Ferguson, Tania Li, and Piers Blaikie. My analysis uncovers large disparities between the goals of aquaculture development programs and actual aquaculture outcomes. I attribute this to the technocratic governance structure of the aquaculture industry, which leads to a lack of engagement and participation between aquaculture managers, researchers, and practitioners. This lack of engagement ultimately makes the communities in which aquaculture is being practiced more vulnerable to anthropogenic and natural disturbances. Additionally, I found that aquaculture practices in the study site are causing significant changes to local agrarian structures, particularly through changes to labor. These changes have implications for social stratification and disempowerment of women. Overall, these findings contribute to the anthropological study of aquaculture as well as to theories of post-development.

Subject Area

Cultural anthropology|Asian Studies|Environmental Studies|South Asian Studies

Recommended Citation

Kiessling, Brittany Louise, "Ethnographic investigations of commercial aquaculture as a rural development technique in Tamil Nadu, India" (2016). ProQuest ETD Collection for FIU. AAI10289542.