CALL FOR PAPERS: Politics of State Interventions on Land Rights in East Africa

Topic: Politics of State Interventions on Land Rights in East Africa

The PhD conference will take place in Nairobi at the French Institute for Research in Africa (IFRA), June the 22nd, 2016. We expect proposals (of 2-3 pages) to be sent to, by April the 22nd, 2016, and that they will exhaustively illustrate the sequence of the presentations. No conference fees are expected to be paid. Transport and accommodation will be provided.

In most cases, in Sub-Saharan African countries (just as in other parts of the world) land is not a mere factor of production, it also shapes socio-cultural identities, and ultimately informs the shaping of political order in society. In fact, asserting authority over land access and control over resources results in political struggles at multiple levels of governance whereby institutions and actors compete for the redefinition of power relations (Lund & Boone, 2013). State actors, and more particularly governments, have a legitimate role to play in administering and securing land rights, whereby of great importance is the meaning attributed to land security. For instance, ensuring a liberalized land sector has appeared as a high priority for African policy-makers, who have been linking titling with the increase in credit to the poor. (de Soto, 2000).

State interventions in the land sector appear as highly political and can be heuristically explored through different lenses. First of all, land policies are a central tenet of developmental strategies, which are political ideologies that orientate the state machinery by imprinting socio-economic models of development (marketization of economy, individualization of society, thwarting “unproductive” livelihoods etc.). Subsequently, these interventions inform techniques of government that aim at asserting authority and shaping societal practices (Lascoumes, 2004). However, interventions rarely meet with expected outcomes, due basically to the failure of an instrumentalist model whereby the state would bring about social change through law making and its implementation (Griffiths, 1986). Nevertheless, interventions do have effects and do affect societal practices in often-unexpected ways, hence the heuristic interest in studying the socio-political dynamics created by public action and its actual impact on society. A meaningful illustration would be titling programs carried out throughout the continent, whereby land rights registration would purportedly enhance efficiency in land uses, create land market that would increase supply and decrease prices, and so therefore attract investments and growth (Toulmin, 2009). However, studies have shown that not only registration of land rights does not automatically increase the productivity of the farm, but also as perverse effects elite’s capture and dismissal of secondary land rights holders have been often recorded (Platteau, 1998). In a nutshell, redefinition of power relations within and outside the state is part and parcel of land politics, either when looking at actors’ interactions produced at the interface between the statutory system and other (semi-autonomous) social fields (Moore, 1978; Fisyi, 1993) or when considering the implications of state interventions as articulating into existing socio-political dynamics (Ferguson, 1994).

In attempting to have a comparative perspective of historical and political processes that produce, and through which state interventions operate, we call for in-depth studies in East African countries that explore different aspects of state interventions on land rights and their sociopolitical dimensions. With this call we look forward to papers that will respond to some of the research questions outlined below.

Political economy of land policies: actors’ dynamics in agenda setting and norms’ formulation.

  • In which political and institutional context are issues of land reforms raised? When they are, how are these issues raised? By whom? Which is (or are) the meaning(s) attributed to “land reform”? What are the dynamics of norms and policy negotiation at the heart of State power? Who is involved? What roles and what strategies do political, economic and state elites play? How do negotiations translate into relational (re)configurations such as political alliances and/or strategic and advocacy groups? What kind of links with international institutions and prescriptions?

Socio-political configurations in the shaping of interventions: studying the instruments and their deployment.

  • What is the rationale of the interventions, the ideology supporting their conception? To what extent does the implementation process divert from the initial formulation, and why? Does the intervention fit into pre-existing socio-political and economic dynamics and to which extend? What are the perverse effects of the intervention? Which are the practices that intend to operationalize it? How do the interventions contribute to shape or undermine the legitimization of state authority? And of local/customary authorities? How do state authority articulate itself to other kind of authorities?

Collective action and the making of citizens: a view from below.

  • How are State interventions received by stakeholders? Is the dialectic of resistance versus domination sufficient to capture the actors’ dynamics? How do actors on the ground organize themselves to respond to them? How, if any, does collective action take shape? Which are the factors enabling or disenabling collective action? How do social boundaries and categories of belonging play into such collective action and into the redefinition of the intervention scope and objectives


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