CfP POLLEN18: Decolonizing Property? Promises, Pitfalls, and Ambivalences of Collective Land and Resource Titling Schemes

*** With apologies for cross-posting ***

Dear All,

Kindly consider joining us for this session at the second Political Ecology Network (POLLEN) Biennial Conference in Oslo, Norway, 20–22 June 2018. More information about the conference is available here:

Please send abstracts of around 300 words (including affiliations and contact information) to myself ( and Adrian Nel ( by 10 December 2017.

All the very best,


Call for Papers: Political Ecology Network (POLLEN) Biennial Conference, Oslo, 20–22 June 2018.

Decolonizing Property? Promises, Pitfalls, and Ambivalences of Collective Land and Resource Titling Schemes

Organizers: Connor Joseph Cavanagh (Noragric, Norwegian University of Life Sciences) and Adrian Nel (University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa)

Abstract deadline: 10 December 2017

Contact: and

 Over the last several decades, a growing number of states, international organizations, and NGOs have pressed for new legislation and policies to formally or statutorily recognize previously neglected options for owning – rather than simply accessing or utilizing – lands and natural resources in common (Boone 2007; Anthias and Radcliffe 2015; Alden Wily 2016; Galaty 2016). In certain ex-European colonies, accompanying legal reforms have also taken on explicitly ‘decolonizing’ or otherwise restitutive overtones, framed as a means of redressing the dispossessions and other grievances associated with colonial and early postcolonial forms of land and resource governance (e.g. Moore 2005; Cavanagh 2018). This is especially so in contexts where colonial rule has been associated with a conflation of specifically common or collectively owned properties with unowned lands or properties (so-called res nullius or terra nullius – see, for instance, Fitzmaurice 2007). In turn, numerous scholars have noted how such subjugations of common property rights have greatly facilitated the appropriation of lands and resources by both (colonial) states and other actors at the expense of customary owners or inhabitants, and in ways that may remain unresolved to date, or which threaten to facilitate new rounds of commodification, privatization, and/or resource acquisition (e.g. Geisler 2012; Alden Wily 2012; Kelly and Peluso 2015).

Often hinging upon various kinds of collective land or resource titling and property formalization schemes, however, efforts to redress these legacies have taken a wide variety of empirical forms, and have been both supported and contested by a surprisingly diverse range of actors (e.g. Chimhowu and Woodhouse 2006; Murray Li 2014). Supporters of collective titling include not just social movements, NGOs, and grassroots organizations (e.g. Rights and Resources Initiative 2017), but occasionally also major development institutions such as the World Bank (Offen 2003; Collins and Mitchell 2017), private firms in ecotourism, agriculture, or extractive industry, and entirely new consortia such as the recently-launched International Land and Tenure Facility (2017). Depending on the precise institutional arrangements adopted, resulting schemes have sometimes evinced an awkward resemblance between contemporary forms of collective landholdings and much older incarnations of colonial ‘homelands’ or ‘native reserves’ that were as much intended to “manage dispossession” (Murray Li 2010, 2014) as they were to ensure the wellbeing of rural populations. Likewise, old questions have once again emerged about inequalities within the day-to-day governance of collectively-owned properties and resource stocks, such as those resulting from patrimonial, gerontocratic, patriarchal, or otherwise malign influences over decision-making and internal resource distribution processes. In this regard, new manifestations of twenty-first century common properties still require us to open up the black box of “the community” to reflect upon inequalities of wealth, gender, and generation, as well as political-ecological influences upon the management of the commons from multiple actors and scales (e.g. Agrawal and Gibson 1999; Andersson and Agrawal 2011; Anthias 2017).

Far from a panacea for resolving the land-related injustices of colonialism and other forms of illiberal rule, then, experiences with such collective titling schemes in a range of empirical contexts suggest that they are producing a much more complex and ambiguous set of results (e.g. Mwangi 2007). As “critical institutionalist” (Hall et al. 2014; Cleaver and de Koning 2015) scholars remind us, in particular, such initiatives – even if formally oriented toward restitutive, redistributive, or socially and environmentally ‘just’ results – can be appropriated or enacted in highly diverse ways as they are translated into particular social, cultural, and ecological contexts on the ground. Hence, whilst imperatives to reform land governance through legal and other institutional means are certainly laudable and often urgently necessary, we can still speak of and explore what we might call the ‘political ecologies of decolonization’ in this regard.

Engaging these phenomena, we invite abstract proposals of 200-300 words that address themes related to one or more of the following:

  • ·      Empirical outcomes and experiences with both historical and contemporary initiatives for collective titling and/or associated mapping and demarcation practices, including diverse motivations and incentives for these schemes.
  • ·      Internal dynamics of collectively owned or titled lands, conservancies, or natural resource stocks, and influences upon these from multiple scales.
  • ·      Incentives and challenges for the concrete implementation of reformed land management and conservation laws, including possibilities for “bureaucratic sabotage” (McAuslan 2003) or diverse efforts by states or other actors to covertly derail these.
  • ·      Ecological or environmental consequences and results of community-owned versus state or individually-owned lands, conservancies, and protected areas.
  • ·      Comparative, trans-historical, or cross-national analyses of legal and other institutional land reforms.
  • ·      Theorizations of decolonization or “decoloniality” (Mignolo 2011) in the land and conservation governance sectors.
  • ·      (Re)constitutions or reformulations of particular types of authority, territory, citizenship and/or belonging under diverse land and resource governance schemes (Lund and Boone 2013).
  • ·      Reflections upon relationships between collective titling schemes and processes of state formation, building, and “internal territorialisation” (Vandergeest and Peluso 1995).
  • ·      Comparisons of land and resource management institutions, laws, or practices within and after European versus non-European instances of colonialism and settler colonialism.
  • ·      Relations between law, policy, and practice, including the informalization, hybridization, or “bricolage” (Hall et al. 2015) of governance strategies in diverse empirical milieux.

Please send abstracts (of 200-300 words) to Connor Joseph Cavanagh ( and Adrian Nel ( by 10 December 2017. Authors will be notified of their acceptance for the session as soon as possible thereafter.


Agrawal, A., & Gibson, C. C. (1999). Enchantment and disenchantment: the role of community in natural resource conservation. World development27(4), 629-649.

Alden Wily, L. (2012). Looking back to see forward: the legal niceties of land theft in land rushes. The Journal of Peasant Studies39(3-4), 751-775.

Alden Wily, L. (2016). Customary tenure: remaking property for the 21st century. In: M. Graziadei and L. Smith (eds), Comparative Property Law: Global Perspectives. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar., pp. 458-478.

Andersson, K., & Agrawal, A. (2011). Inequalities, institutions, and forest commons. Global environmental change21(3), 866-875.

Anthias, P. (2017). Ch’ixi landscapes: Indigeneity and capitalism in the Bolivian Chaco. Geoforum82, 268-275.

Anthias, P., & Radcliffe, S. A. (2015). The ethno-environmental fix and its limits: Indigenous land titling and the production of not-quite-neoliberal natures in Bolivia. Geoforum64, 257-269.

Boone, C. (2007). Property and constitutional order: Land tenure reform and the future of the African state. African Affairs106(425), 557-586.

Chimhowu, A., & Woodhouse, P. (2006). Customary vs private property rights? Dynamics and trajectories of vernacular land markets in Sub‐Saharan Africa. Journal of Agrarian Change6(3), 346-371.

Cavanagh, C.J. (2018). Land, natural resources, and the state in Kenya’s Second Republic. In L. Ikuteyijo and A. Adeniran (eds), Africa Now! Emerging Issues and Alternative Perspectives. New York: Palgrave MacMillan.

Cleaver, F., & De Koning, J. (2015). Furthering critical institutionalism. International Journal of the Commons9(1).

Collins, A. and M.I. Mitchell. (2017). Revisiting the World Bank’s land law reform agenda in Africa: the promise and pitfalls of customary practices. Journal of Agrarian Change,

Fitzmaurice, A. (2007). The genealogy of terra nullius. Australian Historical Studies38(129), 1-15.

Galaty, J. (2016). Reasserting the commons: Pastoral contestations of private and state lands in East Africa. International Journal of the Commons10(2).

Geisler, C. (2012). New Terra Nullius Narratives and the Gentrification of Africa’s” Empty Lands”. Journal of World-Systems Research18(1), 15-29.

Hall, K., Cleaver, F., Franks, T., & Maganga, F. (2014). Capturing critical institutionalism: A synthesis of key themes and debates. The European Journal of Development Research26(1), 71-86.

International Land and Tenure Facility. (2017). About the tenure facility. URL= (accessed 25 October 2017).

Kelly, A. B., & Peluso, N. L. (2015). Frontiers of commodification: State lands and their formalization. Society & Natural Resources28(5), 473-495.

Murray Li, T. (2010). Indigeneity, capitalism, and the management of dispossession. Current Anthropology 51(3), 385-414.

Murray Li, T. (2014). Fixing non-market subjects: governing land and population in the Global South. Foucault Studies 18: 34-48.

Lund, C., & Boone, C. (2013). Introduction: land politics in Africa–constituting authority over territory, property and persons. Africa83(01), 1-13.

McAuslan, P. (2003). Bringing the law back in: essays in land, law, and development. Aldershot: Ashgate.

Mignolo, W. (2011). The darker side of western modernity: Global futures, decolonial options. Durham: Duke University Press.

Moore, D. (2005). Suffering for territory: race, place, and power in Zimbabwe. Durham: Duke University Press.

Mwangi, E. (2007). The puzzle of group ranch subdivision in Kenya’s Maasailand. Development and Change38(5), 889-910.

Offen, K. H. (2003). The territorial turn: Making black territories in Pacific Colombia. Journal of Latin American Geography2(1), 43-73.

Rights and Resources Initiative. (2017). Securing community land rights: priorities and opportunities to advance climate and sustainable development goals. Washington, DC: Rights and Resources Initiative.

Vandergeest, P., & Peluso, N. L. (1995). Territorialization and state power in Thailand. Theory and society24(3), 385-426.
Dr. Connor Joseph Cavanagh
Postdoctoral Fellow
Department of International Environment and Development Studies (Noragric),
Norwegian University of Life Sciences (NMBU)
NMBU Staff Profile | Google Scholar ResearchGate | Twitter 
Latest publications: Cavanagh, C.J. and A. Chemarum, P. Vedeld, and J.G. Petursson. (2017). Old wine, new bottles? Investigating the differential adoption of ‘climate-smart’ agricultural practices in western KenyaJournal of Rural Studies 56: 114-123.
Cavanagh, C.J. (2017). Anthropos into humanitas: civilizing violence, scientific forestry, and the ‘Dorobo question’ in eastern AfricaEnvironment and Planning D: Society and Space.
Cavanagh, C.J. and T.A. Benjaminsen. (2017). Political ecology, variegated green economies, and the foreclosure of alternative sustainabilitiesJournal of Political Ecology 24: 200-  216.

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