EASA2016: Anthropological legacies and human futures

The Promise of Land: intersections of property, personhood and power in rural life
Location U6-20
Date and Start Time 20 July, 2016 at 14:30
Sessions 2


  • David Cooper (UCL) email
  • Piergiorgio Di Giminiani ( Universidad Catolica de Chile) email

Mail All Convenors

Discussant Allen Abramson

Short Abstract

Land is always simultaneously an element within discourses of governance, a vital underpinning of everyday life, and often an explicit concern for the populations studied by anthropologists. By attending to this inherent multiplicity, this panel aims to realise land's fertile analytical potential.

Long Abstract

This panel focuses upon the intersections demanded by the anthropological analysis of land in rural contexts, and the theoretical promise of attending closely to these intersections. Land is always simultaneously a key element within discourses of governance, a vital underpinning of everyday life bound up with personhood, kinship, identity and power, and, furthermore, frequently stands as an explicit political and cultural concern for the populations studied by anthropologists. In its implication in this range of fields, land operates as a critical site of conjuncture, and consequently demands that adequate analyses theorise the interplay between phenomena of distinct scales and perspectives; ranging from global patterns of land accumulation to ordinary experiences and feelings of landedness.

The ways in which state- or NGO-led interventions such as programs of land reform, restitution, privatisation or titling play into or interact with local dynamics and priorities; the ways in which political imaginaries intersect with the practicalities of livelihood strategy; the ways in which particular cultural constructions of land's qualities and affordances come to be bound up with broader administrative procedures. These statements map just a few of the angles of investigation opened up by attention to land's inherent multiplicity.

The theme of land stands as one of anthropology's most longstanding theoretical legacies. By stimulating debate through detailed case studies, this panel will demonstrate that attention to land's intersections can further realise its enduring theoretical promise. The conveners invite presentations from any geographical context which speak to these issues of intersection, interplay and conjuncture.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Agricultural modernization and emotional attachment to land in a Rwandan village

Author: Anna Berglund (Lund University)  email

Short Abstract

Following the land registration in 2010,Rwandan peasants have to follow state agricultural policies that deprive peasants of control over their farming routines.Loss of control has emotional costs.This paper discusses how Rwandan peasants elaborate strategies to still feel in control over their land

Long Abstract

'Attachment to land' is both a legal and an emotional category. In 2010, the Rwandan government undertook the registration of all arable land, and landholders now hold title on their plots for 99 years. Even though Rwandan peasants see an advantage of holding land title, they also struggle with the obligations that come with such a title, and claim that they now have obtained more limited control over their daily farming routines. Land holders must now follow the national agricultural modernization agenda, with mono-cropping of government approved crops, and risk seeing their land given to someone else if they protest or deviate from government demands. However, peasants have developed various practice to evade or resist this new system. Standard interpretations of Hirschman's exit (outmigration), voice (overt resistance) or loyalty as ways to relate to policy are not adequate to describe Rwandan peasants' reactions to the land registration. Instead, my research suggests that there are social and even personal strategies at work to relate to a new reality, operating at the emotional levels of guilt and shame. This paper will discuss how Rwandan peasants react to the land registration and agricultural modernization policies, and how they enact strategies to feel in charge of their plots and source of livelihood, in spite of the authorities tight control over land. Studies of peasant agricultural policies need to take into account not only the political and legal framework, but also the emotional aspects of land ownership/attachment.

From lived experience to political representation: personhood, rhetoric and landscape in the North York Moors

Author: Steven Emery (University of Birmingham)  email

Short Abstract

The paper challenges epistemological distinctions between representational and phenomenological approaches to landscape by demonstrating the means by which farmers in North Yorkshire, UK translate their lived experiences into forms of political representation.

Long Abstract

Based on ethnographic research among hill farmers in North Yorkshire, UK I explore the negotiated interactions of personhood, power and politics through the lens of rhetoric culture theory. The paper seeks to challenge opposing theorisations of land and landscape as either fixed political representation on the one hand, or as phenomenological and experiential on the other. Phenomenology now dominates contemporary ethnographic approaches to landscape and provides rich evidence of the dynamic, nuanced, relational and experiential associations between people and the land. They have more often than not failed, however, to link this deeper, more engaged level of understanding with political interpretations and analyses. The paper addresses this distinction by demonstrating how those living in close quarters with the land (farmers) translate their lived experience into political representation: how experience motivates political action; how it furnishes farmers with the skills to act politically, and; how it grants farmers with legitimacy in the eyes of others. The case material provides examples of how farmers use symbolism and narrative to stake their political claims in the context of contestations with policy-makers and other stakeholders over the interpretation of appropriate farming practices. The paper shows how, contrary to much of the literature, farmers can and do aesthetically fix the landscape for rhetorical effect, and how narrative as a form of rhetorical representation always already serves to politicise time.

Equal land rights but not quite: women living in informal monogamous and polygamous unions in Rwanda

Author: Ilaria Buscaglia (University of Rwanda)  email

Short Abstract

Rwandan gender friendly laws have reshaped rural femininities, generating exclusion and inclusion, constructing new moral and social categories of women with more or less right to land. This paper explores the case of women living in informal monogamous and polygamous unions and their land rights.

Long Abstract

Rwanda is known for its commitment in promoting gender equality, which has become one of the government priorities after 1994. Being the economy mainly based on subsistence agriculture, land reforms are considered key to foster women's empowerment. The Law 22/1999 allowed daughters to inherit land and wives married under community of property to co-own land with their husbands. The Land Law and the Land Tenure Registration Program have also strengthened women's access to land, by obliging married couples to have both names on their land title(s).

Although these new laws and programs have contributed to reshape rural femininities as "more equal to men" than before, some categories of women have been actually produced as "excluded from" the right to land: mainly the women who are informally cohabiting with their spouses, either in monogamous or polygamous unions. The Rwandan Law only recognizes the civil marriage, leaving out all other forms of consensual unions, religious or traditional. The research conducted by our Centre show that women living in such kind of unions, with no secure right to land, risk to be left destitute in case of death or separation from their husbands.

The new reforms and laws have produced new gendered hierarchies, new moral and social categories of women with less (or more) right to land, and new form of subaltern and hegemonic femininities. This paper explores such identity and power dynamics through an analysis of the experience of ordinary rural men, women and local leaders dealing with land related conflict resolution.

Life in the wake of land rights: a case study from Northern Australia

Author: Diana Romano (University of Queensland )  email

Short Abstract

This paper presents preliminary findings from doctoral ethnographic research in Northern Australia, where successful land claims on behalf of an Aboriginal group have had various sociocultural and economic effects.

Long Abstract

In Australia, legislation dealing with Indigenous claims to ancestral lands has been in place for a number of decades. With the positive resolution of many such claims, Australia is now reaching a moment in which the effects of land rights, and their perceived 'restorative justice' can be examined in ethnographic detail.

In this paper, I present some preliminary findings from my doctoral research in the remote Cape York region of Northern Australia, where a series of successful land claims on behalf of an Aboriginal group have had various sociocultural and economic effects.

The overarching effect, however, relates to Indigenous identity construction. With the claims process involving collaboration with lawyers and anthropologists charged with gathering evidence of claimants' connection to land, and the claim outcomes involving increased access and decision-making powers over ancestral lands, opportunities to teach younger generations through being-in-place (Casey 1996), and the legally-mandated corporatization of the Indigenous land-holding group, the solidification of tribal and language-based identities can be compared to what Comaroff and Comaroff (2009) describe as 'Ethnicity Inc'.

The corporatization of landed identity and the development of business arms dedicated to receiving funding for environmental management work have also led to localized, socio-economic changes, whereby some Aboriginal claimants enjoy or aspire to waged employment working on their ancestral lands for their own corporation.

Rights as land: fractious equivalence in rural Nicaragua

Author: David Cooper (UCL)  email

Short Abstract

In a Nicaraguan agrarian reform cooperative, residents have come to treat the concept of derecho—originally referring to rights attendant upon cooperative membership—as connoting, simply, land. But land and derecho resist steady identification, and vital intersections emerge from this redefinition.

Long Abstract

In Gualiqueme, a village established as an agrarian-reform cooperative in rural Nicaragua, residents have come to treat the concept of derecho—originally referring to rights attendant upon cooperative membership—as connoting, simply, land. Insisting upon derecho as a straightforward share of the cooperative's territory has been central to a process of spontaneous decollectivisation which has characterised the cooperative's post-revolutionary trajectory. But in addition to standing as a productive simplification, the respective terms of this equivalence—land and derecho—firmly resist steady identification; and the implications of the effort to assert it nonetheless are consequently far from straightforward.

In this presentation I show that derecho, as well as indicating a simple share of land, carries a range of more expansive connotations which play critical roles in the current situation of complex tenure informality among residents. Through everyday assertions of the equivalence of derecho and land, this divergent range of themes come to be woven into livelihood strategies, and to be critically implicated in everyday efforts to establish ownership and undertake land transactions. The integral relation of land to the social life of the campesino household also, crucially, means that this pragmatically-asserted equivalence produces effects in the other direction, and derecho comes to be inflected by its performed identity with land. Derecho becomes something that can be divided up among children, ownership comes to be construed as a product of effortful labour rather than allocative fiat, and the exigencies of kinship reshape the abstract entitlements conferred by institutional membership.

The (com)promised land? Understanding women's access to land between development discourses and local perspectives in Burkina Faso

Author: Martina Cavicchioli (Goethe Universität, Frankfurt am Main)  email

Short Abstract

Drawing from recent fieldwork in a Mossi village in Burkina Faso, this paper explores the issue of women’s roles and strategies of land use by highlighting the discrepancies between local perceptions and the standardized vision of gender roles framing many development interventions in African countries.

Long Abstract

Governments and development agencies are among the primary actors fostering women's access to land in African countries. In Burkina Faso, interventions such as the creation of communal fields and the introduction of private forms of land acquisition aim to improve women's contribution to the household economy. However, international NGOs promote the emancipating role of women within rural economies as better fitting the standardized vision of gender roles. Local actors attribute disparate meanings to the use of natural resources, therefore complicating the common understanding of land as a gender-bound asset. Although in parts of the country the patriarchal system does not allow women to inherit land, married women usually gain access to a small plot from their husband. Furthermore, they are able to bargain for a larger and more fertile field with male-family members and other community members. In very exceptional cases, this also includes single women willing to pursue economic independence from their parents. Within this framework, development interventions override customary tenure systems and fail to consider the importance of gender dynamics in land attribution. Based on ethnographic cases, I explore how women conceive of land as a multifaceted asset: a duty to their in-law family, a source of bargaining power, and a difficult good to manage. Drawing from recent fieldwork in a Mossi village of the Centre-East region of Burkina Faso, this paper deals with the issue of women's roles and strategies of land use by highlighting the discrepancies between development discourses and local perceptions.

Remaking citizens, remaking the state: land reform in Zimbabwe

Author: Leila Sinclair-Bright (University of Edinburgh)  email

Short Abstract

Zimbabwean land reform created a new relationship between citizens and the state via the redistribution of land. Land beneficiaries had to perform a particular mode of citizenship, that created a particular image of the state in order to maintain and secure their claims over their land allocations.

Long Abstract

Hernando de Soto Polar argues that property rights are the foundation of citizenship, democracy and development. Drawing on Hann (1998) Li (2014) and Kelly (2005), I argue that the inverse is true: particular kinds of social relations produce land as a particular kind of property. 'Property' is not simply made through technocratic processes such as legal title. In the late 1990s war veterans in Zimbabwe spear-headed what would become known as the 'Fast-Track Land Resettlement Program'- a movement which saw the massive redistribution of mostly white-owned commercial farm land to black Zimbabweans. Land distribution was portrayed as the symbolic and material restoration of the sovereignty of the country from the hands of white settlers by ZANU PF and President Mugabe. However land was redistributed in terms of an exclusive form of citizenship based on ZANU PF loyalty. Land reform thus created a new relationship between citizens and the state via the redistribution of land. In this paper I examine these citizen-state relations in the context of a new resettlement area, formerly a white owned commercial farm. Examining a land dispute between two beneficiaries, I show how land was embedded in ZANU PF patronage networks. Land beneficiaries had to perform a particular mode of citizenship, that created a particular image of the state, in order to maintain and secure their claims over the land they were allocated. Their sense of security over the plots they were allocated, depended on their relationship to the state rather than formal legal title.

The Israeli-Palestinian wall goes to court: the legal case of land expropriation in the Cremisan valley

Author: Elisa Farinacci (University of Bologna)  email

Short Abstract

Through an analysis of the Israeli-Palestinian Wall as an assemblage, we explore its impact on the Christians of the Cremisan Valley. The Wall severs owners from their field, its route is debated in court, and it erases the memories and lived experiences of the Palestinians with the landscape.

Long Abstract

The Cremisan Valley, located at the border between Israel and the West Bank's municipality of Beit Jala, for a decade has been the subject of legal battles debate at the Israeli Supreme Court due to the 1.5-kilometer long route proposed for the security barrier. As designed by the IDF, the route, while intending to provide security for the Jewish settlement of Har Gilo and Gilo, at the same time, it would sever fifty-eight Christian families from their lands, as well as separating the Salesian men's monastery and vineyards from the nun's convent and elementary school. The issue of the Cremisan Valley, allows us to analyze the conjuncture between the Israeli's legal system concerning the annexation of Palestinian land through the construction of the Wall; the effects that this segment of the Wall's route will have on local communities based on the results of the legal battle, and the loss of the Palestinian's memory and knowledge of their landscape. The adoption of an assemblage framework, which recognizes the Wall as a nonhuman actant, enables us to discuss how its material presence reveals the role of the Israeli legal system in debates concerning the annexation of West Bank lands, how communities are deprived of their source of income due to the inability to harvest the fields, and how it precludes the Palestinians' experience of sarha, that is to roam freely through the land due to the restrictions of movement caused by the ever-shrinking territory.

Dilemmas of property: personhood, endurance and other-becoming in Mapuche land formalization

Author: Piergiorgio Di Giminiani ( Universidad Catolica de Chile)  email

Short Abstract

This paper examines practices and discourses of land ownership in indigenous Mapuche settlements. The entanglement and unresolved tension between indigenous and legal understandings of land connections rotates around the dilemmas of property, as both a mean of colonial assimilation and a defense against it.

Long Abstract

This paper examines practices and discourses of land ownership among indigenous Mapuche people in Chile. Attention is paid to local historical accounts of land formalization, a process the started in 1930 and concluded in 1980s. These accounts expose the shortcomings of both modernist and communitarian teleological interpretations of the introduction of private property in indigenous settlements. By simultaneously embracing and contesting property theory, rural Mapuche residents demonstrate the entanglement and unresolved tension between indigenous and legal understandings of land connections. The historical adoption of property technologies has elicited quandaries concerning the role of this phenomenon as both a historical strategy of colonial assimilation and a mean of defence against it. I explore the dilemmas of property by focusing on the significance of land connections in ideas and practices of self-making and identity. In order to preserve land connections on which Mapuche personhood is built, the adoption of elements of colonial culture is necessary. The current pervasiveness of property relations in Mapuche social life reveals how the inclusion of colonial otherness is necessary and yet dangerous. While allowing for protection against encroachment and land grabbing by winka (non-indigenous people considered usurpers), the restructuring of social practices as property relations has contributed to transformation into winka. Far from an unproblematic domestication of difference, other-becoming in indigenous southern Chile is a process inextricable from the prospect of assimilation.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.