From Force to Legitimation: Rethinking Land Grabs in Cambodia

TitleFrom Force to Legitimation: Rethinking Land Grabs in Cambodia
Annotated RecordNot Annotated
Year of Publication2017
AuthorsBeban A, So S, Un K
Secondary TitleDevelopment and Change
Key themesAgriculturalModernization, CivilSociety-Donors, Dispossession-grabbing, FDI, Formalisation-titling, Policy-law

This article moves beyond a focus on the brute force involved in high-profile land grabs to examine the way legitimation, regulation and coercion intersect in Cambodia's property regime. It builds on the ‘powers of exclusion’ framework developed by Hall, Hirsch and Li to argue that increased connections within civil society in Cambodia and engagement with Western commodity markets have motivated state and private concessionaires to use different means of land exclusion, with less outright force and a greater focus on repressive regulation and legitimation. These exclusionary powers work through informal political connections, secrecy and obfuscation, which the authors term the ‘power of informality’. This argument is substantiated with two case studies that illustrate a move away from the dominant narrative of forceful expulsion of land users in Economic Land Concessions (ELC) towards approaches that provide in-kind compensation and carve out land for smallholders: a recent land titling campaign in ELC areas, and the first oil palm ELC to gain responsible investment certification. While the authors remain cautious of the implications of this shift, given the persistence of the power of informality, these cases illustrate the potential for new forms of state–society relations: a shift from fear of authorities to a demand for greater accountability and responsiveness.


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Document Type

Journal Article