Over the last decade, transnational farmland deals in the global South have become increasingly prevalent and controversial. Framed by scholars as a new global land rush, these deals have highlighted the link between the shifting geopolitics of development cooperation and intertwined problems of food security, climate change, and global trade. Yet because of their often secretive and speculative nature, transnational land deals have proven difficult to study up close and on the ground, and challenging to interpret in terms of the limited data that is available. This talk posits ongoing state formation in “land-rich” host countries as a key reason for this opacity, and examines this hypothesis through the case of Chinese agribusiness investment in northern Laos. Drawing on ethnographic and archival research, my talk highlights the use of land formalization practices by local state authorities as part of larger efforts to pursue their own territorial agendas in a context of ongoing transnational connection. I argue that in addition to creating outward opacity and stymieing regulation, these practices also conceal the extent to which legacies of Cold War conflict continue to haunt the uneven development of the northern Lao uplands.
Department of Geography
University of Colorado