Call for Papers – Constructions, representations, productions: Exploring historical and contemporary imaginations of land

22 – 24 March 2018
Venue: Collaborative Research Centre 1199, University of Leipzig
Convenors: Michaela Böhme & Sarah Ruth Sippel

Recent transformations in the global food system have drawn renewed attention to questions of land control and land use. Precipitated by the convergent crises of food, fuel, and finance since 2007/08, land is today at the centre of conflicting visions about the future of food and farming. New imaginations of land are emerging, accompanied by, and resulting in, shifting notions of land use and value. Three dynamics in particular illustrate the new imaginations of land: the large-scale acquisitions of farmland (often referred to as the global “land rush”) by governments and corporations driven by concerns over scarce and finite natural resources; the construction of land as a new asset class by financial actors looking for new sources of profit; and the growing use of digital farming methods such as Internet data and satellite images to increase farmland productivity and output. The realization and putting into practice of these imaginations are highly consequential for the novel ways in which land is being reconstructed, appropriated, and used. At the same time, new visions of how to utilize and engage with land do not emerge from within a vacuum; they are embedded in historical contexts.

Throughout history, perceptions and conceptualizations of land have affected land relationships and land use regimes. These histories have tangible meanings and implications for contemporary land relations. By bringing together contemporary and historical perspectives on the multiple and shifting imaginations of land, this workshop seeks to investigate the ruptures and continuities in the ways people have conceived of and interacted with land.

Two perspectives will be of special importance for this purpose. First, environmental history offers important tools for analyzing environmental narratives and their material impacts on nature and society. Often situated within colonial contexts, these histories trace how specific views about land were constructed and mobilized to promote colonial interests in the name of improvement, civilization, and conservation while disenfranchising local peoples and their local understandings of the environment. Many of these narratives are carried over into the present and continue to inform agricultural practices and land regimes in these regions. Second, perspectives from political ecology, combined with insights from science and technology studies (STS), are useful to understand how (contemporary) knowledge about nature and land is produced, applied, and circulated. Emphasizing the social construction of nature, these perspectives help to detect how divergent knowledge claims about land are produced at the intersection of politics, science, and new technologies.

By combining historical, contemporary, and emerging perspectives on land, the workshop seeks to explore how land is and has been produced, represented, appropriated, and used across different regional and historical contexts. To this end, the workshop addresses three interlinked perspectives on land imaginations:

Continuity and rupture: As a product of social practices, imaginations of land are shaped by evolving political and economic prerogatives, emerging technological possibilities, and a changing repertoire of social rules and norms. To unpack and disentangle continuity and ruptures in land imaginations, the workshop asks several questions: How have different actors across diverse regional and temporal contexts shaped notions around land use and land control? Which materials and processes did they employ in constructing such notions? And do we see a continuous development towards enclosure, commodification, and financialization, or are there ruptures allowing for alternative visions of land relations to be realized?

Power and durability: Imaginations of land are multifaceted as well as act as drivers. While some imaginations become enduring, hegemonic, and highly significant for the organization of agriculture and food in society, others remain local and marginalized. To shed light on the power and durability of notions about land use and control the workshop asks the following questions: How do imaginations of land acquire force and durability across different scales from the local to the global? What role do environmental narratives and myths play in this context? And which processes are required to stabilize, formalize, and institutionalize imaginations of land?

Contestations and negotiations: Imaginations of land are contested and riddled with tensions. How are we to make sense of simultaneous processes of land assetization, digitalizing of agriculture, and notions of food and land sovereignty? How are these conflicting imaginations of land negotiated across global and local contexts? And how are they shaping the way land is struggled over?

The workshop aims at bringing together researchers from various disciplines with a keen interest in land and human-nature relations, including historians, critical geographers, anthropologists, political ecologists, and STS scholars. We look for innovative and empirically grounded as well as conceptual contributions. Funds will be available to support participants presenting invited talks. You are invited to submit an abstract of 300 words by 31 October 2017 to michaelaboehme@uni-leipzig.de.

The workshop is part of the Collaborative Research Centre (SFB1199): “Processes of Spatialization under the Global Condition” at the University of Leipzig. It will take place in Leipzig from 22 to 24 March 2018.

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