Workshop II

The Lives of Land

16-17 April 2019, International Centre Goa, Dona Paula, India


India Rice Plantation


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. Our second workshop will explore the varied dimensions of land academically, but also through the creative medium of art, music, activism, film, storytelling and beyond. For this, we invite conceptually nuanced, empirically rich and/or experiential presentations 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.
  • Is it desirable to move from a conceptualisation of land to lands? Can land in the plural have multiple lives, ups and downs, possibilities?
  • What does land mean to workshop participants and constituencies they interact or work with?
  • What are the varied representations of land in art, film, journalism, storytelling, etc.?
  • Would a multi-dimensional conceptualisation broaden engagement, and possible access, to this resource?

We hope to tackle these and related questions from a diverse and creative perspective in our workshop. Presentations from participants will be interspersed with activities such as film screenings, song, poetry, art-making and more. Our discussions and creative output will be aimed not just at those present, but also at a much wider audience. Strategies for wide dissemination of the material under discussion will be part of our brainstorming.