The drama of the grabbed commons: CSR as anti-politics machines and local responses

Haller, Tobias; Gerber, Jean-David (24 April 2019). The drama of the grabbed commons: CSR as anti-politics machines and local responses (Unpublished). In: 4th Open Science Meeting of the Global Land Programme (GLP). Bern, Switzerland. 24.-26.04.2019.

In the current debates on large-scale land acquisitions (LSLA), the promise of material benefits through integration in global markets, land titling, as well as accompanying compensation measures – in particular voluntary Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives – hides the fact that LSLA are not the win-win undertakings depicted by prevalent neoliberal development discourses. We use James Ferguson’s Anti-Politics Machine to critically interrogate the development discourses used to promote LSLA. LSLA are expected to lead to the conversion of some kinds of resources (land, water, biodiversity, wind…) into others (high-value crops, monetary resources or infrastructures…). While some commons disappear (pastures, forests, hunting grounds…) other are created through CSR measures (infrastructure, irrigation channels, special community funds, classrooms or dispensaries).
This paper explores the nexus between LSLA, anti-politics and CSR. Focusing on the public and private actors involved in – or impacted by – LSLA, we recount the drama of the grabbed commons. Combining approaches of New Institutionalism and Political Ecology, we ask: how is the access to resources impacted by the dissolution of existing commons, recognizing that many dimensions of power operate in an investment project, including gender, migration background, social status, age and lineage? Do new commons created by LSLA compensate for the loss of old commons? If the new commons do not compensate for the loss of old commons, why are people not raising their voices to preserve them?
Our empirical evidence from detailed case studies in Ghana, Malawi, Morocco, and Tanzania shows that, under the promise of development, a growing number of land users are deprived from access to commons; at the same time local to global elites are increasingly interested in assuring high returns of capital investment. Powerful discourses of development, women empowerment, wasteland productivity increase, etc. serving as anti-politics machines hide increased state control and asymmetric power relations.

Item Type:

Conference or Workshop Item (Speech)


08 Faculty of Science > Institute of Geography > Human Geography > Unit Political urbanism and sutainable spatial development
06 Faculty of Humanities > Department of Art and Cultural Studies > Institute of Social Anthropology
08 Faculty of Science > Institute of Geography > Human Geography
08 Faculty of Science > Institute of Geography

UniBE Contributor:

Haller, Tobias, Gerber, Jean-David


900 History > 910 Geography & travel
300 Social sciences, sociology & anthropology




Anja Julienne Wohlgemuth

Date Deposited:

31 Mar 2020 14:21

Last Modified:

05 Dec 2022 15:37


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