Messy hectares: questions about the epistemology of land grabbing data

Publication by 2009 DPDF Critical Agrarian Studies Research Director Marc Edelman

Recent research on land deals reports gigantic quantities of hectares seized, with relatively little regard for the solidity of the evidence or for considerations of scale other than area. This commentary questions the usefulness of aggregating data of uneven quality and transforming it into ‘facts’. Making claims on the basis of problematic evidence does not serve agrarian and human rights activists well, since it may undercut their legitimacy and make it difficult for them to identify their adversaries. Studying land tenure and corporate ownership is inherently complicated, with intractable legibility problems. Social scientists must subject their sources to critical scrutiny and understand the contexts of their production, preservation and dissemination. An accelerated process of dispossession is clearly in motion, but countering it effectively requires precise and accurate data, which are difficult to obtain. Oversimplified claims may not only undermine efforts to counter specific cases of land grabbing – and claims about land grabbing more generally – but may also divert attention from less publicized cases and from the actors behind the land grabbing. They also tend to reduce land grabbing to a quantitative problem rather than focusing on the social relations that it may or may not transform.

Title
Messy hectares: questions about the epistemology of land grabbing data
Published
Routledge
On the web
Citation
"Messy hectares: questions about the epistemology of land grabbing data," The Journal of Peasant Studies, , http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/03066150.2013.801340#.UfgP7Y2kqX0.