In the fall of 1966 he studied Tamil at Annamalai University in Tamil Nadu, and the following spring he studied rural development at P.S.G. Arts College, Coimbatore. He carried out a study of 415 ex-untouchable households in the Tirupur area in Coimbatore District in 1967. They were employed as agricultural worker but suffered immensely from mechanisation of agriculture and retrenchment and lived miserable lives.
In 1979-80 he and a colleague, Göran Djurfeldt, did field work in 1969-70 in a big Tamil village 25 km south of Chennai. This resulted in two books: Behind Poverty, and Pills against Poverty (1976). The main theme dealt with the postcolonial mode of production in which land rent, merchant profit and usury held back investments in new technology and thus rural development. Health care could also not change the fact that people were underfed and malnourished.
Together with an Indian team he then studied six villages in the Kaveri delta in Tamil Nadu in1979-80, which resulted in the book Barriers Broken (1990) with Venkatesh B. Athreya and Göran Djurfeldt. Here the Green Revolution had completely changed the production relations so that profit from investments in new technology increased income for most households and was also ploughed back into further agricultural development. Indirect land reforms had benefitted former Scheduled Caste tenants and also contributed to their emancipation from discrimination.
In the 1990s he did field work on the new farmers movements (TN, Punjab, Maharashtra and UP), which lead to the book Social Movements in Development. The main finding was that the farmers’ movements, despite trying to be non-political and fight for farmers rights to water, electricity, remunerative prices, etc., got involved in party politics and lost much of its strength. These movements never managed to establish farmers’ co-operatives to strengthen family farming. Yet, family farming still dominates in Indian agriculture but now subject to market forces beyond their control.
The same team as in 1979-80 carried out a restudy of the same households in the Kaveri delta in 2004-05. Agriculture had registered a slower development over the 25 years study, but the households had become further involved in the local urban economy with jobs in garment factories, construction industry, etc. A number of articles have been published from this research.
All through he has taught students at all levels and also guided 20 doctoral students to a PhD degree.
Of late, he has returned to his earliest fieldwork site in Coimbatore District, now called Tirupur District. The ex-untouchable Madharis caste is still there in the villages and still working in agriculture. Due to an overall industrialisation in the region, they are now enjoying a much better employment and income situation. Children go to school and many women with small children stay home for caring. The political oppression and discrimination has eased considerably, but they are still in the lowest rank of society.
Staffan Lindberg's recent publications as pdf: recent_publications.pdf