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The Dialectics of Estrangement: a Simmelian Interpretation of Displacement and Resettlement Caused by Development Projects (2013-2014)


With some exceptions, research on development-forced displacement and resettlement has been confined to a theoretical ghetto, virtually severed from explicit social scientific reflection. While the processes accompanying displacements are of staggering magnitude and complexity, the theoretical tools to approach them are relatively rudimentary. This paper suggests that the injection of an explicit theoretical point of view and the articulation of a new argument could revitalize the social scientific imagination in understanding displacement and resettlement. By drawing on Georg Simmel’s reflections on the stranger at the turn of the twentieth century, the
paper suggests a possible interpretation of displacement in the form of a dialectic of estrangement which, it is assumed, accompanies displacements caused by development projects. The three moments of the dialectic – the making of the developer stranger, the estrangement of the locals and the new strangers – show how discontinuities emerge in the experience of resettlement. The main implication of this approach is that the complexities and ethical issues arising from development-induced displacements could be more adequately understood if resettlers are viewed as individuals capable of performing their stranger roles in highly variable ways.

Keywords: displacement, resettlement, Georg Simmel, estrangement

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