POLLEN20 CfP – Frontiers of property: ‘trans-regional’ dynamics of resurgent collectivist governmentalities in global land reform

** With apologies for x-posting ***

Dear All,

Please consider joining us for this proposed session at the Third Biennial Conference of the Political Ecology Network (POLLEN) in Brighton, UK, 24-26 June 2020 . More information about the conference is available here: https://pollen2020.wordpress.com/

Engaging the POLLEN20 call for ‘novel’ session formats, the proposal’s “trans-regional” gambit is basically that we will aim to pair each paper with a discussant whose expertise stems from a different/supplementary world region. The idea here is to facilitate additional dialogue on these issues across particular ‘continental’ or area studies literatures and research communities. To allow sufficient preparation time and space for this, we will accept a maximum of only six papers for presentation in (at most) two consecutive sessions.

Please send abstracts of 250 words or less (including affiliations and contact information) to myself (connor.cavanagh@nmbu.no) and Adrian Nel (NELA@ukzn.ac.za) by 25 October 2019.

All the best,

Connor and Adrian

Call for Papers: Third Biennial Conference of the Political Ecology Network (POLLEN), Brighton, UK, 24-26 June 2020

Frontiers of property: ‘trans-regional’ dynamics of resurgent collectivist governmentalities in global land reform

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

Abstract submission deadline: 25 October 2019

Contact: connor.cavanagh@nmbu.no and NELA@ukzn.ac.za

Over the “land reform decades” (Bassett, 1993) of the late twentieth century, it was commonplace for development practitioners to construe both customary and statutory varieties of collective land ownership as institutions on the verge of extinction. Proponents of ‘the evolutionary theory of property rights’ (Platteau, 1996) in particular maintained that a confluence of demand for tenure security ‘from below’ and imperatives to optimise processes of capital accumulation ‘from above’ would gradually lead to widespread privatisation across much of the ostensibly customarily-owned territories of the Global South. Often building upon late attempts to restructure property rights within the native reserves or ‘homelands’ of various European colonies (e.g. Swynnerton, 1955), these diverse initiatives would also frequently evince similarly more-than-economic concerns with the responsibilisation, civilisation (or more recently ‘modernisation’), and even the explicitly counter-insurgent ‘pacification’ of rural populations (Wasserman, 1972). Differently put, land reforms oriented towards the formalisation of property rights and the enclosure of various commons have certainly often served as an integral component of both late colonial and subsequent postcolonial governmentalities in Africa, Southeast Asia, South America and elsewhere (e.g. Moore, 2005; Murray Li, 2010, 2014).

Today, however, it has never been more evident that rumours of the collective title’s demise have been greatly exaggerated (Alden Wily, 2018). From Kenya, to Cambodia, to Bolivia, South Africa and beyond, new forms of statutory common property in land and natural resources are once again resurgent, along with corresponding varieties of titling and formalisation (Anthias and Radcliffe, 2015; Finley-Brook, 2016). Such broadening interest signals, not least, the ways in which efforts to limit the scope of privatisation in land may be oriented as much towards “managing dispossession” and administering “surplus populations” within uneven development’s mounting inequalities as they are toward the protection of community access to land and natural resources (Murray Li, 2010). Yet these arrangements also speak to the increasingly blurry or hybridised relationship between the very categories of the ‘private’ and the ‘common’ in statutory property law itself (Chimhowu and Woodhouse, 2006; Peters, 2009), particularly as the legal substance of common property is increasingly being reworked as an idiosyncratic variety of corporate property to unlock the investment potential of lands and resources previously illegible to donors, bureaucracies, and financiers.

In contrast to older forms of the (colonial) collectivisation of both land use and political identity in the form of native reserves and homelands (e.g. Murray Li, 2014), contemporary varieties of collective titling may thus effectively extend rather than limit the reach of markets and capital. In turn, this appears to be facilitating new forms of both accumulation and displacement – though not always dispossession outright – through various kinds of novel leasehold and subsidiary partnerships with agribusinesses, extractive industry, conservationists, and other actors (e.g. Capps, 2016; Tubbeh and Zimmerer, 2019). Consequently, these and similar forms of resurgent collectivisation may in fact offer a springboard rather than a stumbling block for ongoing processes of economic growth and capitalist development, rather than necessarily a neo-Polanyian “counter-movement” of sorts against deepening manifestations of accumulation by dispossession. Similarly, the political effects of such collectivisation remain deeply ambiguous, perhaps offering to once again entangle claims to both territory and essentialised collective identities in ways reminiscent of the ‘decentralised despotism’ of nineteenth and twentieth-century European colonialisms (Coulthard, 2014).

In short, the nuances, complexities, and ambiguities of this ongoing “territorial” (Finley-Brook, 2016) or “collectivist turn” in global land reform demand further scrutiny from political ecologists and other critical scholars. Accordingly, we invite contributions that engage and empirically document emerging political, environmental, and other dynamics of the latter both within grounded local contexts and across world regions, thus fostering “trans-regional” dialogue across particular continental or area studies literatures. Relevant foci might include one or more of the following:

  • Case studies or comparative analyses of specific titling initiatives across national and world-regional contexts.
  • Differences and similarities between past and present varieties of collectivisation (colonial vs. postcolonial, capitalist vs. ‘communist’, ‘indigenous’ or otherwise).
  • Extensions of collective title beyond property in ‘land’, for instance in collectively-owned forests, water resources, or conservation areas and political-ecological consequences thereof.
  • Internal or multi-scalar dynamics of governance, contestations, and diverse mobilisations within and beyond collectively-titled properties or territories (e.g. Finley-Brook, 2016).
  • “Vernacular” or de facto land privatisation, accumulation, rental, or exchange within collectively-owned properties (Chimhowu and Woodhouse, 2006), and the “informal formalisation” (Benjaminsen and Lund, 2002) of land rights within customary systems of governance.
  • Effects of titling and formalisation on tenure (in)security, existing inequalities, and patterns of socio-economic differentiation (e.g. Peters and Kambewa, 2007; Peters, 2009).
  • Capital investments or partnerships with the private sector following common property formalisation – consequences of the private accumulation of rent and profit derived from common property in land (Capps, 2016).
  • Dynamics and perceptions of use values (e.g. access to land and resources) versus exchange values (e.g. access to new rents or profits) in collectively-titled properties.

Please send abstracts of maximum 250 words to Connor Joseph Cavanagh (connor.cavanagh@nmbu.no) and Adrian Nel (NELA@ukzn.ac.za) by 25 October 2019. Authors will be notified of their acceptance for the session as soon as possible thereafter.


Alden Wily, L. (2018). Collective land ownership in the 21st century: Overview of global trends. Land, 7(2), 68.

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. Geoforum, 64, 257-269.

Bassett, T. J. (1993). Introduction: the land question and agricultural transformation in Sub-Saharan Africa. In T. J. Bassett, & D. E. Crummey (Eds.), Land in African agrarian systems. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.

Benjaminsen, T. A., & Lund, C. (2002). Formalisation and informalisation of land and water rights in Africa: An introduction. The European Journal of Development Research, 14(2), 1-10.

Capps, G. (2016). Tribal‐Landed Property: The Value of the Chieftaincy in Contemporary Africa. Journal of Agrarian Change, 16(3), 452-477.

Chimhowu, A., & Woodhouse, P. (2006). Customary vs private property rights? Dynamics and trajectories of vernacular land markets in Sub‐Saharan Africa. Journal of agrarian change, 6(3), 346-371.

Coulthard, G. (2014). Red skin, white masks: rejecting the colonial politics of recognition. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Finley-Brook, M. (2016). Territorial ‘fix’? Tenure insecurity in titled indigenous territories. Bulletin of Latin American Research, 35(3), 338-354.

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

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.

Peters, P. E. (2009). Challenges in land tenure and land reform in Africa: Anthropological contributions. World Development, 37(8), 1317-1325.

Peters, P. E., & Kambewa, D. (2007). Whose security? Deepening social conflict over ‘customary’ land in the shadow of land tenure reform in Malawi. The Journal of Modern African Studies, 45(3), 447-472.

Platteau, J. P. (1996). The evolutionary theory of land rights as applied to sub‐Saharan Africa: a critical assessment. Development and Change, 27(1), 29-86.

Swynnerton, R. J. (1955). A plan to intensify the development of African agriculture in Kenya. Nairobi: Government printer.

Tubbeh, R. M., & Zimmerer, K. S. (2019). Unraveling the Ethnoterritorial Fix in the Peruvian Amazon: Indigenous Livelihoods and Resource Management after Communal Land Titling (1980s-2016). Journal of Latin American Geography, 18(2), 33-59.

Wasserman, G. (1973). Continuity and Counter-Insurgency: The Role of Land Reform in Decolonizing Kenya, 1962–70. Canadian Journal of African Studies, 7(1), 133-148.

Dr. Connor Joseph Cavanagh
Post-Doctoral Research Fellow
Department of International Environment and Development Studies
Norwegian University of Life Sciences (NMBU)
NMBU Staff Profile | Google Scholar | ResearchGate | Twitter
Latest publications:
Weldemichel, T. and T.A. Benjaminsen, C.J. Cavanagh and H. Lein. 2019. Conservation: Beyond population growth. Science 365 (6449): 133.
Neimark, B., and J. Childs, A.J. Nightingale, C.J. Cavanagh, S. Sullivan, T.A. Benjaminsen, S. Batterbury, S. Koot, and W. Harcourt. (2019). Speaking power to ‘post-truth’: critical political ecology and the new authoritarianism. Annals of the American Association of Geographers 109: 613-623.
Sandbrook, C. and C.J. Cavanagh and D. Tumusiime (eds). (2018). Conservation and Development in Uganda. New York and London: Routledge/Earthscan.
Cavanagh, C.J. (2018). Political ecologies of biopower: diversity, debates, and new frontiers of inquiry.Journal of Political Ecology 25(1): 402-425.
Cavanagh, C.J. (2018). Critical ecosystem infrastructure? Governing the forests-water nexus in the Kenyan highlands. In R. Boelens, T. Perreault, and J. Vos (eds). Water Justice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 302-315.
Cavanagh, CJ. (2018). Enclosure, dispossession, and the ‘green economy’: new contours of internal displacement in Liberia and Sierra Leone? African Geographical Review 37(2): 120-133.

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