York faculty, grad student guest edit Journal of Peasant Studies

Peter Vandergeest and Laura Schoenberger, York Centre for Asian Research (YCAR) associates, are the guest editors of a special issue of the Journal of Peasant Studies: “Southeast Asian Perspectives on Agrarian-Environmental Transformations.”

Over the past 10 years, activists, scholars and development agencies have been discussing large-scale land grabs – a major wave of cross-border land acquisitions set off by the 2007-08 food price crisis and financial crisis. This special journal issue asks how useful the concept of the “Global Land Grab” has been for understanding agrarian and environmental transformations in Southeast Asia.

Artwork by Filipino painter Boy Dominguez (2017), commissioned and used by the Journal of Peasant Studies for the special issue on “Southeast Asian Agrarian-Environmental Transformations”

The introductory essay in the special issue, authored by Schoenberger, Derek Hall (Wilfred Laurier University) and Vandergeest, grapples with this question. They suggest the concept of a global land grab, with its origins in multiple crises in 2007-08, did not add much to our understanding of the Southeast Asian boom in plantations for oil palm, rubber and many other crops at the end of the 20th and the start of the 21st centuries.

“We asked the contributors to consider how complex multi-scale dynamics that drive agrarian-environment transformation (AET) in Southeast Asia may be brought more clearly into focus by decentring land grabbing,” said Schoenberger, a York U PhD canadidate in geography.

Vendergeest, a professor and graduate program director in geography, said the contributors’ responses broaden the entry points of land grab studies.

“The papers consider how plantations interact with other forms of land enclosures for mining, conservation, hydropower and smallholder production, and argue for attention to cross-sectoral relations as AET processes,” he said.

The collection represents a selection of research presented at the 2015 Land Deal Politics Initiative (LDPI) conference held in Chiangmai, Thailand. The papers take up a range of empirical examples from Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines and Vietnam, to demonstrate the nuances of AET in the region.

By making links across sectors, contributors complicate how we understand agrarian livelihoods and displacements.

Articles in the issue cover a range of topics, including:

• a shift of the conventional singular focus on oil palm production in Indonesia to the impact of small-scale gold mining;

• examining research on environmental governance of hydropower dams and plantations in Laos and Cambodia;

• describing the outcomes of an action research project where Indonesian communities used drones to generate maps accurate enough to be submitted as evidence in court to secure land rights; and

• writing about the capacity of smallholders to influence key decisions in land deals in the Philippines and Indonesia.

The special issue also includes contributions that debunk the idea that smallholders will eventually be replaced by large industrial farms.

The collection as a whole preserves the tradition of working across the academic-practitioner-institutional-activist divides. Schoenberger and Vandergeest said they put this special issue together to push the field of land grab studies in new directions using new and innovative research on Southeast Asia.

The special issue is available open-access for the remainder of 2017. Find the issue at tandfonline.com/toc/fjps20/44/4?nav=tocList.

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