Opening Remarks of Boserup Lecture:
I am deeply honoured to be asked to give the 2016 Ester Boserup lecture. I first read Women’s Role in Economic Development, as a graduate student in the late 1980s. In preparing for this lecture, it was with such a sense of delight that I re-discovered some of her remarkable insights – for instance, female support for polygamy as a way of minimizing the burden of housework and husband care. Her description of how colonial economies led to the deterioration of women’s status vis-à-vis men and how they relied on the unpaid labour of women, predates much of the work of contemporary historians on this subject, locating it firmly within an ecological and technological base.
In her memoirs, ‘My professional life and publications’ one can see how at the core of all Boserup’s thought is a commitment to internationalism, to socialism, to interdisciplinarity and truth. In the context of the area that I will talk about today, the predominantly indigenous and forested belt of central India, which is facing a protracted war between Maoist guerillas and the Indian state, what is particularly important about Boserup is her refusal to accept easy characterisations of certain parts of the world as backward or certain practices as irrational, showing how rationality is located in the way communities manage the relationship between population, land and technology.