What is land? Assembling a resource for global investment



The so-called global land rush has drawn new attention to land, its uses and value. But land is a strange object. Although it is often treated as a thing and sometimes as a commodity, it is not like a mat: you cannot roll it up and take it away. To turn it to productive use requires regimes of exclusion that distinguish legitimate from illegitimate uses and users, and the inscribing of boundaries through devices such as fences, title deeds, laws, zones, regulations, landmarks and story-lines. Its very ‘resourceness’ is not an intrinsic or natural quality. It is an assemblage of materialities, relations, technologies and discourses that have to be pulled together and made to align. To render it investible, more work is needed. This Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers Plenary Lecture uses an analytic of assemblage to examine the practices that make up land as a resource. It focuses especially on the ‘statistical picturing’ devices and other graphic forms that make large-scale investments in land thinkable, and the practices through which relevant actors (experts, investors, villagers, governments) are enrolled. It also considers some of the risks that follow when these large-scale investments land in particular places, as land they must.