I’ve been writing quite frequently of late about land grabs, which can be directly tied to what David Harvey calls accumulation by dispossession. In fact, one could argue that land grabs are the most egregious instance of that dynamic today.
I haven’t been following academic analysis of this trend so intently, but just learned of an article by Saskia Sassen, available free online at the moment, which anatomizes land grabbing. In the article, Sassen describes land grabs in the following terms:
This essay focuses on the larger assemblage of elements that promoted and facilitated the sharp increase in foreign land acquisitions by governments and firms since 2006. The concern is not to document the empirics of foreign land acquisition. Conceptually the essay negotiates between the specifics of the current phase of land acquisitions, on the one hand, and, on the other, the assemblage of practices, norms, and shifting jurisdictions within which those acquisitions take place. This assemblage of diverse elements does not present itself explicitly as governance. But I argue it is a type of governance embedded in larger structural processes shaping our global modernity; in fact, it may have had deeper effects on the current phase of land acquisitions than some of the explicit governance instruments for regulating land acquisitions. This mode of analysis is based on the conceptual and methodological work I developed in my book, Territory, Authority, Rights (Sassen, 2008); put succinctly it proposes that to explain the x (in this case, foreign land acquisitions) requires a focus on the non-x (in this case, that larger assemblage of elements that amounts to a structural enablement and embedded governance). This deeper structural level is also what makes the current phase of land acquisitions potentially deeply consequential, to the point of signaling the further disassembling of national territory. Such disassembling can enable the rise of a new type of global geopolitics, one where national sovereign territory increasingly is subject to non-national systems of authority—from familiar IMF and WTO conditionality to elementary controls by diverse foreign actors over growing stretches of a country’s land.
Sassen’s essay is published by Taylor and Francis, a for-profit publisher of academic journals and books, so ironically her analysis of these attacks on the global commons may not be freely available for much longer. Read it while you can!