Accepted paper:

The drama of the grabbed commons: CSR as anti-politics machines and local responses


Tobias Haller (University of Bern)
Jean-David Gerber (University of Bern)

Paper short abstract:

Based on comparative anthropological research on LSLAs in Ghana, Malawi, Morocco, and Tanzania, the paper shows that the promise of material benefits through markets, land titling, compensation measures such as CSR acts as Anti-Politics Machine to hide the loss of the commons especially for women.

Paper long abstract:

We use James Ferguson's Anti-Politics Machine to critically interrogate the development discourses used to promote LSLA. LSLA are expected to lead to the conversion of some kinds of resources (land, water, biodiversity, wind ) into others (high-value crops, monetary resources or Infrastructures ). While some commons disappear (pastures, forests, hunting grounds) other are created through CSR measures (Infrastructure, Irrigation channels, special community funds, classrooms or dispensaries).

This paper explores the nexus between LSLA, anti-politics and CSR. Focusing on the public and private actors involved in - or impacted by - LSLA, we recount the drama of the grabbed commons. Combining approaches of New Institutionalism and Political Ecology, we ask: how is the access to resources impacted by the dissolution of existing commons, recognizing that many dimensions or power operate in an investment project, including gender, migration background, social status, age and lineage? Do new commons created by LSLA compensate for the loss of old commons? If the new commons do not compensate for the loss of old commons, why are people not raising their voices to preserve them?

Our empirical evidence from detailed case studies in Ghana, Malawi, Morocco, and Tanzania shows that, under the promise of development, a growing number of land users are deprived from access to commons; at the same time local to global elites are Increasingly interested in assuring high returns of capital investment. Powerful discourses or development, women empowerment, wasteland productivity increase, etc. serving as anti-politics machines hide increased state control and asymmetric power relations.

panel Econ23
"Land grabbing" and political economy of investments in export horticulture in Africa