Contested Global Landscapes

A Multidisciplinary Initiative of the Cornell Institute for the Social Sciences

Protestors against dams in India

by Kathleen Sexsmith

Although scholars on the Politics of Land Deals: Regional Perspectives panel on Oct 17th presented perspectives from disparate locations across the globe, their findings presented a number of commonalities in the ways these processes are taking place – and being resisted.

The violent and coercive role of the state in the dispossession of agricultural producers in India and Ecuador was well documented by Michael Levien (Michael’s paper – pdf) and Juli Hazlewood respectively. The recently retooled Ecuadorian Constitution – internationally hailed as a means of restoring the rights of nature and the social-nature metabolism – is paradoxically providing a constitutional means for the potential use of military force against resisters, by placing rights to “ecological services” in the hands of the government.

Ben Cousins also found that contemporary solutions to colonial land grabs may, in fact, be throwing the baby out with the bathwater. In South Africa, the “inclusive business models” approach to land reform is susceptible to the same contradiction between social reproduction and capital accumulation that is most typical of petty commodity production. The imperatives of capital are favored over those of workers under farmworker equity schemes that leave their worker-owners with a minimum wage.

On a more positive note, each of these presenters highlighted the non-complacency of local populations, who continue to employ everyday strategies of resistance at what Levien referred to as the “politics at the point of enclosure”. Ben Wisner and Alberto Alonso-Fradejas highlighted the support that civil society organizations are providing to these movements (read Ben paper here and Alberto’s paper here) leaving the audience in agreement with Hazelwood that geographies of hope are in the air.

Kathleen Sexsmith is a graduate student in the Department of Development Sociology at Cornell University

(Photo: We the people of India… Protest against the Sardar Sarovar (narmada) dam, joins a national protest at Jantar Mandar, Delhi. Photo by joeathialy on Flickr)

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