What is Land? Assembling a Resource for Global Investment

Professor Tania Murray Li, Department of Anthropology at the University of Toronto and inaugural Sydney Southeast Asia Centre (SSEAC) Distinguished Scholar

Co-presented with the Sydney Southeast Asia Centre

28 March, 2014

The so-called global land rush has drawn new attention to land, its uses and value. But land is a strange object. Although it is often treated as a thing and sometimes as a commodity, it isn’t like a mat: you can’t roll it up and take it away. To turn it to productive use requires regimes of exclusion that distinguish legitimate from illegitimate uses and users, and inscribe boundaries through devices such as fences, title deeds, laws, zones, regulations, landmarks and story-lines. Its very "resourceness" isn't an intrinsic or natural quality. It is an assemblage of material properties, relations, and discourses that have to be pulled together and made to align. To render it investible, more work is needed. This talk pays particular attention to the inscription devices that produce land as an abstract space of given quantity (a hectare), and render land investible by enabling comparison of utility, value, and risk. It draws upon examples from Southeast Asia, where monocrop farming of oil palm and other industrial crops is expanding on a vast scale, obliterating previous forms of life and instituting quite different ones.

Professor Tania Li

Professor Tania Murray Li teaches in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Toronto, where she holds the Canada Research Chair in the Political Economy and Culture of Asia. Her publications include Land's End: Capitalist Relations on an Indigenous Frontier (forthcoming), Powers of Exclusion: Land Dilemmas in Southeast Asia (with Derek Hall and Philip Hirsch, 2011), The Will to Improve: Governmentality, Development, and the Practice of Politics (2007) and many articles on land, development, resource struggles, community, class, and indigeneity with a particular focus on Indonesia.