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Abstract

Recent critical analyses of global land grabs have variously invoked global capitalism and neocolonialism to account for this trend. One line of inquiry approaches land grabs as instances of “primitive accumulation of capital” whereby lands in the Global South are “enclosed” and brought within the ambit of global capitalism. Another perspective invokes the history of Anglo-American colonialism for critiquing the developmentalist discourse that depicts Africa as the “last frontier” to be tamed by the techno-industrial civilization of the North. This essay integrates these two perspectives by elaborating capitalism as an irreducibly colonial formation with global inceptions. I begin with a discussion of “primitive accumulation” and, counter to many, question the suitability of “enclosure” for interpreting land grabs. The second section delves into the theoretical origins of primitive accumulation, proposing to situate it in a global and colonial genealogy of capitalism. A final section charts the theoretical and historical contours of this global genealogy and arrives at a more capacious reconceptualization of primitive accumulation. I conclude by reflecting on the implications of contemporary land grabs for in situ displacement, the fungibility of land, and new enclosures in the contemporary reconfiguration of global value chains.