Towards a Land Reform (Research) Agenda in the Global North
A confluence of societal change concepts, notably food systems transformation, housing justice, and global public health justice, have turned their attention to property relations as an underlying driver of acutely felt problems. Such critical inquiry about the character of property and a political willingness to challenge its entrenched foundations appear newly felicitous. Scholars and activists (re)turning their attention to land and property present the following core observations:
Strong private property regimes present an intractable tension between individual liberties guaranteed by the state and the urgent structural changes demanded of overlapping emancipatory projects of the environment, social justice, and human well-being.
Property commitments that structure the world as a network of individual units operate at-odds with environmental regulation and ecological management, which function on the level of landscapes of connected processes and assemblages.
“Castle-and-moat” property systems endemic to wealthy “global North” locales distribute authority of decision making to rights holders, dispensing capacity to adapt to current owners of property and their heirs, and entrenching incentive structures aligned with forms of exploitative and exclusionary resource use.
The allocation and maintenance of property rights is a core function of state-making, explaining the reticence for direct reform or property relations even if changes in land use are a consensus policy choice.
Proposing new access regimes that encourage land use consistent with models such as a green transition and agroecology, tests the legitimacy of the state, rendering such policy ideation unattractive. This effect leads to a classic “co-production”, where the institutional norms and discourses of property co-construct what is deemed reasonable technoscientific approaches to bringing about a more just and resilient food/environmental/health/housing systems.
Despite these observations, actors arguing from stances of land justice, agroecology, and housing reform often pursue their goals through the acquisition and redistribution of property rights. Thus, small victories in the name of food systems change or social housing appear to entrench existing property relations, rather than challenging the nature of property. Nonetheless, I argue that multiple social and environmental crises give rise to a growing recognition that a just transition is not possible without a creative rethinking of the norms of property,,,,.
The policy prioritization of climate mitigation and adaptation in Europe for example, presents a mandate for innovative land use restructuring even if new property relations are not yet discussed as feasible policy option. The mobilization around the Green New Deal in the US, for example, presents a parallel case. This preamble suggests a unique opportunity to seize this epistemic juncture and generate new interdisciplinary theory about property regimes and societal transformation writ large.
The following questions emerge from the above observations:
How do the overlapping political, economic, and ecological crises of the present inform our evaluation of existing private property regimes?
What are the strengths and weaknesses of various alternative property regimes with regards to the well-being and land use objectives proposed?
What role can scholars play in current efforts to reimagine property regimes?
What are the legal, social, and political processes that best facilitate a just transition around land or property relations?
The following sub questions are also invoked:
What are existing policy options for land redistribution or land governance reimagination in the global North? What new policies need to be created?
What is meant by land reform (what outcomes)? Redistribution, new relationships, benchmarks of control or ownership, new land use? What does this conceptual framing enable and what does it obscure or preclude (rhetorically, politically, and intellectually)?
What interests are driving focus on current land injustice and how can lessons be drawn from them?
What are the existing, historical and proposed alternative forms of land relations that might deliver different use outcomes? How to understand what type of benefit sharing they may or may not deliver?
What are the mobilizing discourses that legitimize alternative land access claims? How do differing logics of property deliver different land use outcomes?
What are the blindspots of a land reform agenda viewed through a policy reform perspective? What are the common policy and governance strategies for land reform in the Global North? What are their strengths and weaknesses? What are the reasons for focusing discussion on the Global North?
What can policy analysts and land reform advocates learn from popular struggles for land justice (across the world, historical and contemporary)?
How does the political economy of the present (crises of neoliberalism, rise of authoritarian populism,...) shape the conditions of possibility for various land reform projects?
If you are working on these questions or interested on working on these questions, I’d like to hear about it.
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