Constructions, Representations, Productions: Exploring Historical and Contemporary Imaginations of Land

Project C04 (SFB 1199)


Recent transformations in the global food system have drawn renewed attention to questions of land control and land use. Precipitated by the convergent crises of food, fuel, and finance since 2007/8, land is today at the centre of conflicting visions about the future of food and farming. New imaginations of land are emerging, accompanied by, and resulting in, shifting notions of land use and value. Three dynamics in particular illustrate the new imaginations of land: the large-scale acquisitions of farmland (often referred to as the global “land rush”) by governments and corporations driven by concerns over scarce and finite natural resources; the construction of land as a new asset class by financial actors looking for new sources of profit; and the growing use of digital farming methods such as Internet data and satellite images to increase farmland productivity and output. The realization and putting into practice of these imaginations are highly consequential for the novel ways in which land is being reconstructed, appropriated, and used. At the same time, new visions of how to utilize and engage with land do not emerge from within a vacuum; they are embedded in historical contexts. Throughout history, perceptions and conceptualizations of land have affected land relationships and land use regimes. These histories have tangible meanings and implications for contemporary land relations. By bringing together contemporary and historical perspectives on the multiple and shifting imaginations of land, this workshop seeks to investigate the ruptures and continuities in the ways people have conceived of and interacted with land.

Two perspectives will be of special importance for this purpose. First, environmental history offers important tools for analysing environmental narratives and their material impacts on nature and society. Often situated within colonial contexts, these histories trace how specific views about land were constructed and mobilized to promote colonial interests in the name of improvement, civilization, and conservation while disenfranchising local peoples and their local understandings of the environment. Many of these narratives are carried over into the present and continue to inform agricultural practices and land regimes in these regions. Second, perspectives from political ecology, combined with insights from science and technology studies (STS), are useful to understand how (contemporary) knowledge about nature and land is produced, applied, and circulated. Emphasizing the social construction of nature, these perspectives help to detect how divergent knowledge claims about land are produced at the intersection of politics, science, and new technologies.

By combining historical, contemporary, and emerging perspectives on land, the workshop seeks to explore how land is and has been produced, represented, appropriated, and used across different regional and historical contexts. The workshop brings together researchers from various disciplines with a keen interest in land and human-nature relations, including historians, critical geographers, anthropologists, political ecologists, and STS scholars.

Thursday, 22 March 2018 | Venue: SFB 1199, Strohsackpassage Nikolaistr. 6-10/ 5th floor, Leipzig
5:00-7:00 pm Opening lecture
Tracing a path in the sky: New scenarios for the International Criminal Court
Speaker: Eduardo Toledo
7:00 pm Reception
Food and drinks
Friday, 23 March 2018 | Venue: SFB 1199, Strohsackpassage Nikolaistr. 6-10/ 5th floor, Leipzig 
9:00-9:30 am


Welcome, introduction and conceptual framework
Sarah Ruth Sippel
Panel I: Power and durability
9.30-10.45 am Session 1: Environmental histories and imaginations of nature | Chair: Michaela Böhme
Diana K. Davis: Castles in the sand: Coastal sand dune imaginaries & development
Brian Kuns: Soviet nature and the post-communist agrarian transformation in Ukraine
Open discussion
10:45-11:15 am Coffee break
11:15-12:30  pm Session 2: Producing and selling the black soil | Chair: Michaela Böhme
Xue Wang: The creation of scientific black soil knowledge in late nineteenth-century Russia
Oane Visser: The remarkable persistence of farmland imaginaries against all (ecological and economic) odds: The case of the celebration of the black earth soil during various investment waves
Open discussion
12:30-2:00  pm Lunch
Panel II: Contestations and negotiations
2:00-3:30 pm Session 3: Hope and justice: reclaiming (imaginations of) land | Chair: Felicitas Sommer
Alice Beban and Laura Schoenberger: Hopeful ruptures in land relations in Cambodia
Daniel Münster: From land to soil: Alternative imaginations of land at the agrarian frontier in South India
Shona Hawkes: Counting backwards: The legacy of USAID’s land registration program in Timor-Leste
Open discussion
3:30-4:00 pm Coffee break
Panel III: Continuity and rupture
4:00-5:15 pm Session 4: Imagining land as a commodity | Chair: Kai Roder
Katharina Lange: Contradictory imaginations of land in Kurdistan
Cynthia Gharios: Intensification and investments: How subsidies are changing the Moroccan agrarian landscape
Open discussion
5:15 pm-6:30 pm Session 5: Food, land and the reimagination of the urban | Chair: Kai Roder
Ivonne Weichold: Land for food: The impact of regional food systems on spatial developments
Valentine Cadieux: Imagining urban foodland
Open discussion
7:30 pm Dinner
Saturday, 24 March 2018 | Venue: SFB 1199, Strohsackpassage Nikolaistr. 6-10/ 5th floor, Leipzig
Panel III: Continuity and rupture (continued)
9:00-10:00 am Session 6: Negotiating land and foreign investment | Chair: Cynthia Gharios
Stefan Ouma and Tobias Klinge: “This country was built of foreign investment”: The role of regulatory agencies in transforming New Zealand farmland into an asset class
Michaela Böhme: Land, food and capital: exploring the multilayered imaginations of Chinese investment in Australian agriculture
Open discussion
10:00-11:00 am Session 7: Imagining land as finance scape | Chair: Cynthia Gharios
Anna Hajdu and Oane Visser: Financial asset, estate, or farm? A genealogy of land imaginations, farm models and images of ‘the investor’ in Romania
Sarah Ruth Sippel: (Re)Imagining land as a financial asset class
Open discussion
11:00-11:30 am Coffee break
11:30-12:30 pm Session 8: Socio-technological imaginations of land | Chair: Oane Visser
Paul Swagemakers et al.: Contemporary imaginations of land-use: Land and human-nature relations of family farms in Austria, Spain and Italy revisited
Raoni Rajao: Fighting for the future: Competing land-use models in the history of protected areas in the Amazon
Open discussion
12:30-1:15 pm Lunch break
1:15-2:15 pm Session 9: Imagining land and water scapes | Chair: Oane Visser
Tanya Richardson: The terrestrialization of amphibious life in a Danube Delta “town on water”
Lia Bryant: Agricultural land/waterscapes: Socio-natures and material sites of exclusion
Open discussion
2:15-3:00 pm Workshop wrap up and closing remarks
Juan Ignacio Staricco: Final comment
Final discussion
— Optional program —
3:00-6:00 pm Field trip to the outskirts of Leipzig: “Leipzig’s coal transition – from open pit mining to lake district”
7:00 pm Pub night