A new article will be published in the journal World Development (February 2016) entitled ‘Theorising the Land – Violent Conflict Nexus’ by Mathijs van Leeuwen (Leiden University, Radboud University Nijmegen) and Gemma van der Haar (Wageningen University). The full article can be accessed through this link: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0305750X15002338 (subscription required).
While disputes over land are prominent in many situations of protracted violent conflict, questions remain about the precise relationships between land and violent conflict. Political ecology and legal anthropology have rightly questioned dominant approaches in theorizing land-related conflict that are centered on scarcity and institutional failure. While underlining the contribution of these critical approaches, we argue that questions about what is actually at stake in so-called “land-conflicts”, and in particular how localized land disputes and large-scale violence get connected, are not yet adequately addressed. To further theorizing on this point the paper proposes to take on board advances made in the wider field of conflict studies, notably the notions of war as a “social project” and “warscapes”. We emphasize the importance of “alliances” between local disputes and broader cleavages, and of processes of “framing”. The added value of such a perspective is then illustrated by case-studies based on original fieldwork in Burundi and Chiapas (Mexico), that bring out how sense-making of social actors at different levels, including development interveners, interlocks through alliances and framing. We suggest that academic research should analyze how particular land-related conflicts are performed, stimulated, interpreted, and used. Our argument also implies that policy makers and development practitioners should be aware that their work is not neutral, and should be more attentive to how their programs feed into processes of sense-making and mobilization. More generally, the paper de-naturalizes the link between land and conflict and draws land conflict analysis into the realm of social practice.