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VIDEO DOI: https://doi.org/10.48448/y1ea-sg52


AAA Annual Meeting 2021

November 18, 2021

Baltimore, United States

Roundtable on Anthropology of Land





For an uber-anthropological category animating social relations, land is paradoxically remarkably undertheorized. Land remains salient in anthropological studies of property and law; agrarian relations; ecology, development and the state; nationalism, belonging, identity and ritual; or housing, urbanization and infrastructure, to name a few. However, with few exceptions, anthropologists have not deeply engaged with the question ‘what is land?’ Tania Li reminds us that the meanings of land are not commensurable, or stable; with its diverse array of affordances, including the capacity to sustain human life, the materiality, location and inscription devices used to shape and assemble land as a ‘resource,’ matter. As emergent crises around climate change, refugees, pandemics and the rise of the right unfold, a considered understanding of how land is mobilized, materially, discursively, affectually or semiotically, enables a clearer sense of what is at stake; moves us beyond implicit assumptions; identifies disciplinary and methodological contributions; and helps articulate emergent questions that the category of land foregrounds. This roundtable draws on land’s unequal polysemy, to ask: what is land; what does land do; and what do we (as scholars) do with land? We are not only interested in how land is understood, but also in how anthropological knowledge about land is produced and developed. How are social relations around land articulated through colonial and post-colonial regimes; how are they conceptualized by various actors; and how may they inform the conceptualization of land? Does land have agency; what is its history; does its materiality shift; how may we conceptualize land as more-than-human nature? What insights does the ethnographic method contribute to the anthropology of land? As a fundamental affordance for the conditions of life on earth, does land have a life beyond anthropocentric social relations, and under what conditions are such relations made possible? The roundtable discusses thematic linkages across ex-, post- and settler-colonial, rural, urban, and urbanizing land regimes; the propertization and territorialization of land, water, forest, labour and non-human species and matter; contested historical claims and belonging mediated by law, state and identity; ontologies of land informed by indigeneity, race, caste, gender, multi-species relations and capitalism; the materiality of land, its fungibility, and subsoil properties generating value relations; and financial, real estate, infrastructure, extractive and agrarian potentialities of land in the anthropocene. Sengupta discusses colonial tenures, memorialized custom and indigeneity claims in east central India’s bauxite zone. Grant examines fragmented Diné lands and the oil and gas lease property-form in eastern Navajo. León Araya interrogates the ghosts of past plantations animating Costa Rican development and state formation. Sampat tracks casteist colonial British and Portuguese genealogies of landed property prefiguring contemporary land impasse in India. Bosworth analyzes settler infrastructures of desire in the U.S. Great Plains oil pipeline construction. Sippel examines practices reimagining land as a revenue-generating and tradable financial asset class in Australia. Ghertner traces land’s fungibility, as socialities of non-privatized agglomeration economies exceed property models in New Delhi, India. Finally, Li brings to bear insights on land as an anthropological category.


Transcript English (automatic)

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