Contested Global Landscapes

A Multidisciplinary Initiative of the Cornell Institute for the Social Sciences


By Youjin Brigitte Chung, Cornell University

What are the different perspectives from which we can frame the land grab debate? This was the overarching theme of the first parallel session of the 2nd International Conference on Land Grabbing. The panelists for this session – Farshad Araghi (Florida Atlantic University), Tania Li (University of Toronto), Phil McMichael (Cornell University), and Pauline Peters (Harvard University) – all provided different standpoints from which to understand the nature, scope, and patterns of contemporary larges-scale land acquisitions.

Farshad Araghi focused on the commodification of land rights from a global historical perspective, using Braudel’s conception of the “longue durée” as a methodological tool.

Tania Li went on to examine how land is treated as an abstract alienable object of investment through various ways of representing and presenting it. Download Tania Li’s presentation (pdf)

Phil McMichael framed the land grab debate through the food regime analysis, stressing the birth of a new ‘security mercantilism’ which pivots on the dialectic of ‘re-territorialisation’ / ‘de-territorialisation’ (offshoring of agricultural commodity production via host state collaboration).

Last but not least, Pauline Peters expanded the scope of the debate to include domestic as well as foreign land grabs, as well as the impacts on the lives and livelihoods of small-scale farmers in Africa. Download Pauline Peters’ presentation (pdf)

This session opened up lively discussions on various topics – including the way land is seen as a commodity, the historical context of land grabs, the construction of risks in land investments, and re-examination of state-market relations among others.

Most importantly, the session reminded us of the usefulness of situating the land grabs debate in a more complex, conceptual, and historical framework, and to approach various manifestations of land grabs in both theoretical and action-oriented manner.

Youjin Brigitte Chung is a PhD student in Development Sociology at Cornell University. She received an MPhil in Development Studies from Cambridge University and has previously worked on food rights issues at ActionAid International.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.