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Conditional Belonging: Farm Workers and the Cultural Politics of Recognition in Zimbabwe


  • Blair Rutherford

    1. Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Carleton University, 1125 Colonel By Drive, Ottawa, ON, Canada K1S 5B6.
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A version of this paper was presented to a Development Seminar at the University of Toronto (8 December 2006), and to a Séminaire de l'équipe Gouvernance des ressources et des territoires SupAgro Moisa, Montpellier, France (7 June 2007). I thank the participants for their insightful comments. I also thank Tim Scarnecchia, David Moore, and the two anonymous reviewers of Development and Change for their very helpful comments and suggestions.


This article examines Zimbabwean land politics and the study of rural interventions, including agrarian reform, more broadly, using the analytical framework of territorialized ‘modes of belonging’ and their ‘cultural politics of recognition’. Modes of belonging are the routinized discourses, social practices and institutional arrangements through which people make claims for resources and rights, the ways through which they become ‘incorporated’ in particular places. In these spatialized forms of power and authority, particular cultural politics of recognition operate; these are the cultural styles of interaction that become privileged as proper forms of decorum and morality informing dependencies and interdependencies. The author traces a hegemonic mode of belonging identified as ‘domestic government’, put in place on European farms in Zimbabwe's colonial period, and shows how it was shaped by particular political and economic conjunctures in the first twenty years of Independence after 1980. Domestic government provided a conditional belonging for farm workers in terms of claims to limited resources on commercial farms while positioning them in a way that made them marginal citizens in the nation at large. This is the context for the behaviour of land-giving authorities which have actively discriminated against farm workers during the politicized and violent land redistribution processes that began in 2000. Most former farm workers are now seeking other forms of dependencies, typically more precarious and generating fewer resources and services than they had accessed on commercial farms, with their own particular cultural politics of recognition, often tied to demonstrating support to the ruling political party.