Workshop I

Multidimensionalising Land

20-21 December 2018, International Centre Goa, Dona Paula, India


Sunflower Field


Over the period of liberalisation, more than 5 million hectares of India’s land have transitioned from agriculture, pasture, ‘waste’ and other common property uses to industry, infrastructure, mining and real estate to service the new economy (GoI 2016). Such land transitions can be voluntary and on the market, and/or they can involve the might of the state and political actors that facilitate the market. Movements against land transition have arisen in different parts of India, demanding better terms of exchange, more equity and transparency, or the preservation of existing ways of life.

In these various interventions, transitions and struggles, it is not always clear what ‘land’ is. Land may be a base for growth, a factor of production, and individualised property. It may also be a store of value, collective history, memory, and our connection to the earth. It may be territory and our sense of identity and security. It could be some of this, all of this, or none of the above. What it cannot be is ‘a thing’ (Li 2014). In academia, much has been written on land transitions. This discussion tends to study what is being done on land, rather than to land per se. If at all land is interrogated beyond its thing-ness or resource-ness, it may end up in disciplinary silos, with vast literatures for instance on property. There is also not enough engagement between popular and political responses to land transition, and scholarly readings of this phenomenon.

Our initiative takes its cue from popular movements around land transition in India, which engage with land creatively via multiple registers. For instance, the social, political and legal challenge to Vedanta Resources in Niyamgiri came from the history, memory, sacredness and enlivenment enfolded into the nature of land. Shared models of development, where ‘land losers’ eventually get a stake in commercially viable land speak to land as individualised property, but also as collective access. We are also inspired by scholarship that does indeed view land multimodally (Polanyi 1944; Lefebvre 1974/91; Ribot and Peluso 2003; Li 2014a, 2014b; Rasmussen and Lund 2018; Sud, forthcoming). We wish to put practice and theory in conversation to further both. In a worldwide context of the commodification and exploitation of natural resources under capitalism, a multi-dimensional perspective has the potential to push alternative land/thought-scapes with implications for equity and sustainability.

With this in mind, we are initiating a set of workshops sponsored by the Global Challenges Research Fund. The first workshop will explore the varied dimensions of land academically. For this, we invite theoretically nuanced and empirically rich papers on:

  • What is land?
  • The many dimensions of land: land as pride, identity, memory; land in nature, land and water; land as money and financial flows; land and extractives: barren and ‘waste’land; land and the city, land and the rural; land and society; borderlands; land as politics, authority and power, including state power.
  • Can the many dimensions of land speak to each other? Does this matter?
  • Would a multi-dimensional conceptualisation broaden engagement, and possible access, to this resource?
  • Case studies of multi-dimensional land in idea and practice.
  • Does any of this matter? Or is land basically being accumulated by capital, or decimated by the anthropocenic effects of capital?

It is expected that scholars from across the social sciences and humanities will participate in Workshop 1. To keep our ear to the ground, discussants for the first workshop will be drawn from among our project’s practitioner partners who are activists, lawyers, journalists, politicians and others who engage with land creatively. All participants are asked to keep the discussion accessible to a range of disciplinary and applied interests. Building on Workshop 1, the second workshop will delve into the practical implications of multi- dimensionalising land. Thus the order of speakers will be reversed in Workshop 2, with academics responding to our practitioner speakers. Ours is an outreach project, as much as an academic one.