This paper by Annelies Zoomers discusses Tania Murray Li’s article After the Land Grab: Infrastructural Violence and Indonesia’s Oil Palm Zone, placing it in the wider debates about global land grabbing and inclusive development.
Although Tania Murray’s article focuses on the expansion of oil palm plantations, it is interesting to widen the debate, showing that infrastructural violence happens not only in the rural sphere as a consequence of oil palm plantations: similar processes are taking place as the result of large-scale investments in roads and high-speed rail connections, dams and bridges, energy grids and real estate. Looking at the broader picture, we see rapidly expanding grids of urban infrastructure bringing about material, social and political transformations that go much further than the consequences of plantations on ‘empty’ land. Looking at processes of rural–urban land conversion, it is clear that the ‘machine of urbanization’ is producing an involuntary grid for social and political life. Just like the plantation, it is violent in the sense that as a system, it destroys other forms of life and precludes other futures (even that of the plantation). In the article, little attention is paid to the fact that plantations are embedded in dynamic contexts of rapid urbanization, or to the similarities between the plantation and the urban grid: also in the urban sphere ‘underneath the orderly structure of roads and electricity grids, there is predation’ – mafias helping urban infrastructures to reinforce and further expand. Large-scale investments in land for food and biofuels, as well as in tourism, mining, hydro dams, real estate and urban infrastructure, are contributing to new types of linear development and enclaves. The process often goes hand in hand with processes of formalization, and leads to the displacement or resettlement of vulnerable groups. Rather than focusing on oil palm plantations, one should broaden the scope: although plantations are considered ‘violent machines’, in the longer run rapidly expanding urban grids might be more destructive and violent than rows of oil palm trees. Infrastructural violence is an enormous problem – investments in inclusive business and inclusive city development are a necessary requirement for meeting the sustainable development goals (‘leaving no one behind’).