Panel 17: Institutions and Citizenship

Harry W. Fischer, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Uppsala, (chair)

Abstract: Toward a Political Ecology of citizenship: State and society in the governance of the commons 

Decentralized natural resource management has been justified by the conviction that local resource management systems are more democratic and sustainable than direct state administration. Critics have suggested that both natural resource management and democracy are socially-embedded practices which cannot be engineered through new institutions alone. In this paper, I suggest that these two objectives—sustainability and democracy—and their prospects of mutual fulfillment can be better understood through close attention to the ways that practices of citizenship evolve through broader histories of political change. When viewed through such an historical lens, interventions for community-based resource management are a crucial site for the rearticulation of local social and political power. I illustrate this through case material of changing practices of community-based water management in the Indian Himalayas over the past three decades. I show how layered institutional interventions, against a backdrop of broader processes of subnational political transformation, have led to the consolidation of new channels to leverage state support for resource management needs, which has simultaneously provided spaces for historically marginalized subsections of society to claim greater power and authority in village society. These engagements have, in turn, transformed the social basis of water management, which is increasingly a function of the character of political relationships between local actors and a variety of state administrative bodies. I make a case for the concept of citizenship as increasingly important to understanding how communities, state, and environment are brought into dialogue through struggles over common-pool resource governance in the present era. 

Joseph Martínez, University of Cambridge,

 Abstract: Futures of Uncertainty in Agricultural Frontiers

Resource frontiers are characterized by extended pressures from capital and modernizing projects to constantly create new markets and commodities and, accordingly, new forms of value and institutional arrangements. The expansion of the agricultural frontier pushed by the exhaustion of land and the constant drive to increase profits provides grounds for State efforts to consolidate its authority in front of competing forms of citizenship and forms of knowledge. The material and technical dimensions of such process imply the deployment of State infrastructures aimed to create forms of certainty that would allow markets to start and continue operating over time. Data collection, land titles, advertisement campaigns, sustainability standards, deployment of military and police, among other strategies and technologies allow for the creation of a minimum standard of investor security that would reduce risk and then incentivize mobility of capital through investment. Certainty is produced as an affect that, as trust does, makes markets endure. Efforts to create a stable outlook for exploitation and constant profiting provide the grounds to produce new temporalities. This paper looks at the connections between stability creation and time from the perspective of agricultural booms and the temporal and spatial fixes and flows that frontiers can create, focusing on the agricultural boom of palm oil in Colombia, after the enforcement of the peace agreements signed with the paramilitaries in 2005. Certainty is articulated with forms of knowing the future and forms of collective representation used to allow agency, but also such forms of certainty for investors create other forms of uncertainty for peasants through precarious labour conditions, environmental degradation and rearrangement of existing social relationships. My paper will look at the mechanisms used to create certainty, the temporal mediations performed by smallholder farmers engaged in new palm plantations in the face of uncertainty and their forms to approach the future.

Tomas Skov Lauridsen, University of Copenhagen and Jesper Willaing Zeuthen, Aalborg University

Abstract: Trading China’s Authority:  Political trust as collateral in a Chinese development zone

China’s state driven urbanization and the revenues earned through state driven conversion of land from rural (legally non-commodified) to urban (legally commodified) status have been studied intensively at least during the last decade. In many of these studies, a precondition is that there are actually buyers who can pay for the land once legally changed to urban (commodified) status, and that land may be sold at a price higher than the increasing compensation provided for “peasants” who lose their formally rural land. This paper through a study of the development of China’s “national level new districts”, Tianfu New District, on the outskirts of Chengdu, South-western China argues that an important element of ensuring that land gets the expected value comes through trust in China’s development politics. The new zone’s vicinity to one of China’s largest cities only partially explains why there is a rush to invest in the area. Prices for establishing industry or purchasing  real estate are much higher than in neighbouring, and otherwise comparable areas. The paper argues that this is because there is a trust in the state and state owned corporations focusing its future investments in the area and that financial institutions – with the central state backing – will channel funding to the area. In this way, trust in the Chinese state becomes part of the collateral for investing in the district. The paper examines and reconceptualizes the process of transforming land-as-state-property into land-as-tradable-asset within the complex institutional context populated by Chinese local governments, financial institutions, land developers and “peasants”. This is done by applying the theoretical concept of “financialized political capitalism” and conducting the analysis on three institutional levels: fiscal, real economic and financial in a  case study of investments in Tianfu. By studying how capital is constructed through change, reinterpretation and maintenance of existing institutions on these levels, the paper argues that state authority and the construction of financial capital in contemporary China are intimately linked. What is in fact traded in the overheated real estate market is often rather trust in government as a credible backstop rather than the actual use-value of the traded resources.

Louisa Prause, Freie Universität Berlin,

Abstract: Renegotiating institutional orders at Senegal’s mining frontier

In this paper I ask how protest actors in conflicts over mining contribute to shaping institutional orders at resource frontiers. I combine insights from social movement theories and political ecology with the aim to understand how protest actors contribute to legitimating and delegitimating claims to land and resource control by state and traditional authorities as well as corporate actors. I argue that in directing their demands and protest actions at specific authorities they lend a certain degree of legitimacy to these institutions. Through their protests they strengthen some authorities and weaken others. By addressing their demands to companies instead of state authorities they might also weaken state control over certain territories. The decision on who to address with their demands is not done randomly. Protest actors engage strategically at certain points in time with some authorities while ignoring others. However, the interactions of protest actors and (state) authorities also reshape the protest actors themselves. In demanding to speak to designated spokespersons or refusing negotiations with some actors while inviting others to join official meetings and policy processes, state authorities also shape the organization of protests and relations of power within protest movements. My argument is based on a case study of mining conflicts in Senegal where I conducted five months of field research in 2014, 2015 and 2016.