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. He received his PhD from the University of California, Berkeley in 2013. His research falls within the fields of development sociology, political sociology, agrarian political economy and social theory. The main focus of his research has been on the drivers, consequences, and politics of land dispossession. This research has been largely ethnographic and focused on India, but has also included cross-national comparisons. Additional research interests have included the expansion of land-related corruption and criminality in post-liberalization India, and global trends in public opinion towards markets and inequality over the past three decades. His new research focuses on climate change and the politics of energy transition in fossil fuel producing regions in the U.S.

My research agenda falls primarily within the fields of development sociology, political sociology, and agrarian political economy with a geographic focus on India. My research to date, culminating in my book Dispossession without Development (2018), has concentrated on demonstrating the significance of dispossession as a social relation, and examining its implications for inequality, economic development, and politics. I have also undertaken research on broader themes of agrarian transformations in the Global South and on the global politics of neoliberalism. While grounded in sociology, my research spans development studies, South Asia studies, and agrarian studies and brings me into interdisciplinary conversations with geographers, urban planners, anthropologists, political scientists, and historians. Going forward, I have begun two new book projects. The first attempts to understand the relationship between corruption and neoliberalism through a study of India’s “land mafia.” The second builds on comparative extensions from my book project to chart a sociology of dispossession.

  • 230.150 Issues in International Development
  • 230.213 Social Theory
  • 230.363 Sociology of Dispossession
  • 230.379 Undergraduate Research Seminar
  • 230.391 Theories of International Development
  • 230.395 Contemporary Social Theory
  • 230.602 Theories of Society
  • 230.647 Agrarian Change


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