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Primitive Accumulation, Accumulation by Dispossession and the Global Land Grab

Critical scholars have made extensive use of the concepts of primitive accumulation and accumulation by dispossession to analyse the global land grab. These concepts have been crucial to efforts to understand the land grab in terms of the creation, expansion and reproduction of capitalist social relations, of accumulation by extra-economic means, and of dispossessory responses to capitalist crises. This paper provides an overview of these approaches. It also argues that there are substantial challenges involved in the use of primitive accumulation and accumulation by dispossession, including tensions and ambiguities over what the concepts mean, the assumptions embedded within them and problems of fit with other conceptualisations of the land grab. The paper also highlights resources for engaging with these challenges in the land grab literature.

Looking back to see forward: the legal niceties of land theft in land rushes

This paper aims to make a modest contribution to an overdue need to locate the current land rush in its historical context, less as a new phenomenon than as a surge in the continuing capture of ordinary people's rights and assets by capital-led and class-creating social transformation. It aims to do so by looking back to earlier land rushes, and particularly to those which have bearing upon sub-Saharan Africa, the site of most large-scale involuntary land loss today. In particular, the paper focuses upon a central tool of land rushes, property law. The core argument made is that land rushes past and present have relied upon legal manipulations which deny that local indigenous (‘customary’) tenures deliver property rights, thereby legalizing the theft of the lands of the poor or subject peoples. Even prior to capitalist transformation this feudal-derived machination was an instrument of aligned class privilege and power, later elaborated to justify mass land and resource capture through colonialism. Now it is routinely embedded in the legal canons of elite-aligned agrarian governance as the means of retaining control over the land resources which rural communities presume are their own.

Land Grabs Today: Feeding the Disassembling of National Territory

This essay by Saskia Sassen 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. Keywords: Land Acquisitions, Land Grabs, Assemblages, Territory, Authority, Rights, Expulsions

The Global Land Grab (Transnational Institute)

A concise and indispensable critical guide to the global phenomenon of land grabbing. Find out how the global land grab is "justified", what is driving it, why transparency and guidelines won't stop it, and learn about alternatives that could enable people and communities to regain control of their land and territories.

When the center no longer holds: cities as frontier zones.

Saskia Sassen is one of the only academics who has written about the phenomenon of what I call the global grab. Now governments seem to be giving the green light to this gold rush. Exceptions which have existed in some cities and in the GATS, are being done away with, when it comes to healthcare and housing. Where is all this going to go?

The English Enclosures

Video explaining the impacts of the Inclosure Acts which are in spirit much like GATS and its successor TISA. The far reaching implications were similar in their impacts on the common people of England. The enclosures were also a land grab. A revolution by the rich against the poor.

A Massive Loss of Habitat: New Drivers for Migration

Saskia Sassen: The paper examines three emergent migration flows, each with specific features that can be described as extreme. The effort organizing the paper is to understand conditions at places of origin that lead people to risk their lives in dangerous trips to escape those places of origin. As is by now known, these migrants are not the poorest of the poor in their places of origins. The rapid surge in these flows combined with the conditions they leave behind raise a question that organizes much of the analysis: Are the categories we use to understand and describe migrations—that is, the notion of people in search of a better life, who leave behind a family and home that they want to support from afar and possibly return to–enough to capture the specificity of these emergent flows. My answer is: not quite. One big difference from the past is that part of the story is a massive loss of habitat due to a variety of extreme patterns, from massive land-grabs to poisoning of land and water due to mining. The paper examines how the development models implemented over the last 30 and more years have enabled some of these negative conditions. Further, another major factor reducing the habitat of these migrants is a proliferation of asymmetric wars. Both sets of factors reduce the habitat for more people. One outcome of this combination of elements is these new migrations. Keywords:migration, development, globalization