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Staffan Lindberg, in memoriam 1943–2019

Earlier this week SASNET received a message that the founder and former director of SASNET, Professor Emeritus Staffan Lindberg has died.

Former SASNET Director Staffan Lindborg holding one of his books. Photo.
It is with great sadness that we learned of Staffan’s passing. Staffan was to the very end very active in SASNET, not only as a mentor to current director Andreas Johansson, but also, for his contributions to seminars and publications. Just last year he published a book on India together with his friend and colleague, former deputy director of SASNET Lars Eklund. Staffan will not only be remembered as one of the leading figures in Sweden with regard to South Asia studies, but also as a genial person who always welcomed people to his home.

Staffan Lindberg’s academic achievements were many. From 2000 to 2007 he created and directed the Swedish South Asian Studies Network (SASNET) at Lund University. A number of collaborative research projects were launched during this period, including providing support to meetings of South Asian sociologists in 2005.

In the fall of 1966 Staffan studied Tamil at Annamalai University in Tamil Nadu, followed in the spring by research into rural development at P.S.G. Arts College, Coimbatore. He carried out a survey of 415 ex-untouchable households in the Tirupur area in Coimbatore District in 1967. His investigation showed that agriculture workers suffered greatly from the mechanisation of farming and retrenchment and their lives were deplorable.

In 1969-70 Staffan and a colleague, Göran Djurfeldt, did fieldwork in a large Tamil village 25 km south of Chennai. This resulted in two books: Behind Poverty, and Pills against Poverty (1976). They showed that in the postcolonial mode of production land rent, merchant profit, and usury held back investments in new technology and thus hampered rural development. Despite healthcare people were underfed and malnourished.

Together with an Indian team Staffan then studied six villages in the Kaveri delta in Tamil Nadu from 1979-80, and in 1990 he published the book Barriers Broken (1990) with Venkatesh B. Athreya and Göran Djurfeldt. He showed how the Green Revolution had completely changed production relationship so that profit from investments in new technology increased income for most households the surplus was invested in further agricultural development. Indirect land reforms had benefitted former Scheduled Caste tenants and had also contributed to their emancipation from discrimination.

In the 1990s Staffan’s fieldwork on the new farmers concentrated movements in Tamil Nadu, Punjab, Maharashtra and Uttar Padesh. The result was another book Social Movements in Development (1997). Its main finding was that the farmers’ movements, despite trying to be non-political and lead the fight for farmers rights to water, electricity, remunerative prices, etc., beacame involved in party politics and lost much of their force. As a result, they never managed to establish farmers’ co-operatives to strengthen family farming. Nevertheless, family farming still dominates Indian agriculture although it is now subject to market forces beyond the control of small producers.

In 2004 to 2005 Staffan reassembled the same team as in 1979–80 and carried out a follow-up of the same households in the Kaveri delta. Agriculture had shown a slower development over the 25 years study, but the households had become more involved in the local urban economy. People now held jobs in garment factories, the construction industry, etc. A number of articles were published detailing this research.

Staffan taught students at all levels and guided 20 doctoral students to a PhD degree. He had recently returned to his earliest fieldwork site in Coimbatore District, now called the Tirupur District. The ex-untouchable Madhari caste still live there in the villages and continue to work in agriculture. Due to the widespread industrialisation in the region, they now enjoy a far better employment and income situation. Their children go to school and many women stay home to take care of the young.

Staffan is survived by his wife Karin, and his three sons, Mattias, David and Mikael. Our thoughts go out to his family and close friends.