Land Politics: Exploring Bottom-Up Perspectives across Regions, Time Periods, and Disciplines

April 2018

Ever since Adam Smith and Karl Marx repudiated the Physiocrats, most social scientists have paid scant attention to the politics of land – who controls it and by what means, whether it is a store of value or a source of rent, and how any arrangements over its occupation and use interact with other aspects of social, economic, or political orders. When scholars have examined land, they usually see its governance as epiphenomenal or, at best, as imposed from the top down upon lumpen peasantries with little agency of their own. This seminar seeks to rectify this deficit, putting land politics firmly at the center and treating it as a primary cause, rather than simply an effect, of other dynamics across a variety of societies and time periods. Bringing together leading scholars from anthropology, business, geography, history, and law, as well as political science, it will address two core questions: 1) how are different land tenure and use arrangements articulated, negotiated, and implemented from the bottom up at the grassroots; and 2) in what ways and through what mechanisms do such arrangements impact broader social, economic, and political orders. In terms of geographic focus, the aim is to transcend regional divides, so scholarship on Latin America, West Africa, other regions of sub-Saharan Africa, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, India, and the Caribbean will be brought together.