Michael Levien

Michael Levien

Associate Professor

Contact Information

Research Interests: Development sociology, agrarian political economy, political sociology, social theory, ethnography, India

Education: PhD, University of California, Berkeley

Michael Levien is associate professor of sociology at Johns Hopkins University, where he is also associated with the Ralph O’Connor Sustainable Energy Institute (ROSEI). He received his PhD from the University of California, Berkeley in 2013. He is an ethnographer and social theorist who studies large political economic forces in the everyday life of small places.

His current research focuses on climate change and the politics of energy transition in fossil fuel producing regions in the U.S. He is working on a book on the social consequences of carbon capture and storage (CCS) in Louisiana.
Prior to this, the main focus of his research was on land dispossession, development and agrarian change in India.

The common theme of my research is using ethnographic methods to advance our understanding of large political economic forces, whether climate change, energy transition or large-scale land grabbing.

My current research is focused on developing a comparative sociology of energy transition. Specifically, I am interested in the challenge of decarbonization in fossil-fuel producing regions of the United States. To this end, I have done ethnographic and interview-based fieldwork in West Virginia and Louisiana. My current book project examines the social consequences of carbon capture and storage (CCS), a controversial approach to climate mitigation that is moving ahead rapidly since passage of the Inflation Reduction Act. The book is based on one year of ethnographic research in Louisiana—the epicenter of the CCS boom—focused on communities slated for CCS injection wells, pipelines and “clean fuels” plants. I have also been studying the political economy of offshore wind development in the Gulf of Mexico.

My prior research focused on land dispossession in India. This work sought to advance a comparative sociology of dispossession, a social relation that was largely neglected by sociology. This research culminated in my book Dispossession without Development (2018), which won multiple book awards from the American Sociological Association and the International Studies Association. I have also undertaken research on broader themes of agrarian transformations in the Global South and on the global politics of neoliberalism.

  • 230.150 Issues in International Development
  • 230.213 Social Theory
  • 230.348 Climate Change and Society
  • 230.363 Sociology of Dispossession
  • 230.379 Undergraduate Research Seminar
  • 230.391 Theories of International Development
  • 230.395 Contemporary Social Theory
  • 230.601 Theories of Society
  • 230.602 Theories of Society
  • 230.647 Agrarian Change
  • 230.649 Qualitative Methods


Agarwal, Samantha and Michael Levien. 2019. “Dalits and Dispossession: A Comparison.” Journal of Contemporary Asia. Published online April 13.

Levien, Michael. 2017. “Gender and Land Grabs: A Comparative Analysis.” UN Women Discussion Paper Series. No. 15, July 2017: 1-27.

Levien, Michael. 2015. “Social Capital as Obstacle to Development: Brokering Land, Norms and Trust in Rural India.” World Development 74: 77-92.

Levien, Michael. 2015. “From Primitive Accumulation to Regimes of Dispossession: Theses on India’s Land Question.” Economic and Political Weekly 50(22): 146-157.

Madeleine Fairbairn, Jonathan Fox, S. Ryan Isakson, Michael Levien, Nancy Peluso, Shahra Razavi, Ian Scoones, and K. Sivaramakrishnan. 2014. “Introduction: New Directions in Agrarian Political Economy.” Journal of Peasant Studies 41(5): 653-666.

Levien, Michael. 2014. “From Primitive Accumulation to Regimes of Dispossession.” Revista Sociologia y Anthropologia 4(1): 25-53 (Portuguese, translation by Markus Hediger).

Levien, Michael. 2013. “The Politics of Dispossession: Theorizing India’s ‘Land Wars.’” Politics & Society 41(3): 351-394.

Levien, Michael. 2013. “Regimes of Dispossession: From Steel Towns to Special Economic Zones.” Development and Change 44(2): 381-407.

Levien, Michael and Marcel Paret. 2012. “A Second Double-Movement?: Polanyi and Shifting Global Opinions on Neoliberalism.” International Sociology 27(6): 724-744.

Levien, Michael. 2012. “The Land Question: Special Economic Zones and the Political Economy of Dispossession in India.” Journal of Peasant Studies 39 (3-4): 933-969.

Levien, Michael. 2011. “Special Economic Zones and Accumulation by Dispossession in India.” Journal of Agrarian Change 11(4): 454-483.

Levien, Michael. 2011. “Rationalising Dispossession: The Land Acquisition and Resettlement Bills.” Economic and Political Weekly 46(11): 66-71.

Levien, Michael. 2007. “India’s Double Movement: Polanyi and the National Alliance of People’s Movements.”  Berkeley Journal of Sociology 51: 119-149.

India Land in Demand, Financial Times, July 7, 2015
How Congress got corporates addicted to govts buying land for them, First Post, May 28,2015
The Wrong Land War, Business Standard, May 20,2015