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ABSTRACT

This contribution looks at land property relations in a peasant community in the central highlands of Peru. Rather than using a rights-based approach, the authors propose a ‘practice force field approach’ for their analysis of property relations under communal land tenure regimes. Their study combines qualitative ethnographic case studies with quantitative analysis of data on land distribution. In contrast to rights-based approaches, this perspective understands the legal discourses that people draw upon to explain property relations as ‘justifying rule talk’ rather than the reflection of a system of property rights. It is shown how property relations are shaped in mediated interactive processes, where official rules, moral principles, shared histories and strategic games come together. The authors use this practice force field approach to study Usibamba, an Andean community that has developed a true disciplinary regime of communal governance based on control over land. The role of ‘rule talk’ and the function of elaborate local systems of land registration are examined in the context of the annual reallocation of communal land. Particular attention is paid to the performance of the president of the comunidad during this delicate process and his reflections on the course of events.