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Theorizing the Land–Violent Conflict Nexus


  • Van Leeuwen, Mathijs
  • Van Der Haar, Gemma


While disputes over land are prominent in many situations of protracted violent conflict, questions remain about the precise relationships between land and violent conflict. Political ecology and legal anthropology have rightly questioned dominant approaches in theorizing land-related conflict that are centered on scarcity and institutional failure. While underlining the contribution of these critical approaches, we argue that questions about what is actually at stake in so-called “land-conflicts”, and in particular how localized land disputes and large-scale violence get connected, are not yet adequately addressed. To further theorizing on this point the paper proposes to take on board advances made in the wider field of conflict studies, notably the notions of war as a “social project” and “warscapes”. We emphasize the importance of “alliances” between local disputes and broader cleavages, and of processes of “framing”. The added value of such a perspective is then illustrated by case-studies based on original fieldwork in Burundi and Chiapas (Mexico), that bring out how sense-making of social actors at different levels, including development interveners, interlocks through alliances and framing. We suggest that academic research should analyze how particular land-related conflicts are performed, stimulated, interpreted, and used. Our argument also implies that policy makers and development practitioners should be aware that their work is not neutral, and should be more attentive to how their programs feed into processes of sense-making and mobilization. More generally, the paper de-naturalizes the link between land and conflict and draws land conflict analysis into the realm of social practice.

Suggested Citation

  • Van Leeuwen, Mathijs & Van Der Haar, Gemma, 2016. "Theorizing the Land–Violent Conflict Nexus," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 78(C), pages 94-104.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:wdevel:v:78:y:2016:i:c:p:94-104
    DOI: 10.1016/j.worlddev.2015.10.011

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Bobrow-Strain, Aaron, 2004. "(Dis)Accords: The Politics of Market-Assisted Land Reforms in Chiapas, Mexico," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 32(6), pages 887-903, June.
    2. Klaus Deininger, 2003. "Land Policies for Growth and Poverty Reduction," World Bank Publications, The World Bank, number 15125, December.
    3. Amartya Sen, 1981. "Ingredients of Famine Analysis: Availability and Entitlements," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 96(3), pages 433-464.
    4. Andre, Catherine & Platteau, Jean-Philippe, 1998. "Land relations under unbearable stress: Rwanda caught in the Malthusian trap," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 34(1), pages 1-47, January.
    5. Autesserre, Séverine, 2009. "Hobbes and the Congo: Frames, Local Violence, and International Intervention," International Organization, Cambridge University Press, vol. 63(02), pages 249-280, April.
    6. Paul Collier & Anke Hoeffler, 2004. "Greed and grievance in civil war," Oxford Economic Papers, Oxford University Press, vol. 56(4), pages 563-595, October.
    7. Cramer, C., 2002. "Homo Economicus Goes to War: Methodological Individualism, Rational Choice and the Political Economy of War," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 30(11), pages 1845-1864, November.
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    Cited by:

    1. Mequanent, Getachew, 2016. "The Application of Traditional Dispute Resolution in Land Administration in Lay Armachiho Woreda (District), Northern Ethiopia," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 87(C), pages 171-179.
    2. Hamilton-Hart, Natasha, 2017. "The Legal Environment and Incentives for Change in Property Rights Institutions," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 92(C), pages 167-176.
    3. Ricardo Hausmann & Carlo Pietrobelli & Miguel Angel Santos, 2018. "Place-specific Determinants of Income Gaps: New Sub-National Evidence from Chiapas, Mexico," CID Working Papers 343, Center for International Development at Harvard University.
    4. Onuorah Hyacinth, Edeh & Mavrotas, George, 2018. "Examining perceived land tenure security and dispute resolution pathway preferences among landholders: Implications for land governance reforms in Nigeria," 92nd Annual Conference, April 16-18, 2018, Warwick University, Coventry, UK 273500, Agricultural Economics Society.


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