Accepted paper:

Desire in the understanding of 'land grabs' in Zambia


Jessica Chu (School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London)

Paper short abstract:

At the sites of 'land grabs' in Zambia, two emotions are manifested: the desire for economic growth and the fear of food insecurity. Yet, these emotions serve to both propagate and confront 'land grabs'. In what ways are 'land grabs' the products of desires rather than of economic logic?

Paper long abstract:

In a world of plenty, there remains continued desire for economic growth and food security. Current global uncertainty over food supplies has resulted in some acting on their desires through the acquisition of land. The growing movement of 'land grabs', in which developed countries seek to secure food supplies through investment in foreign land acquisitions, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa. In contrast, others argue that 'land grabs' pose great critical threats to local livelihoods and human rights. However, the real product of this debate has been the creation of intangible, impermanent spaces, characterised by uncertainty and disquiet. Few facts and little fieldwork-based evidence has been employed. Within the sites of 'land grabs', complex webs of competing and contested desires exist, that surpass their economic logic. A spectrum of actors, including local and national governments, NGOs, and local populations all exhibit desires for economic development and food security, through a number of different means, but to several different ends. Have acts of desire propagated 'land grabs'? Whose desires predominate and whose are lost or unheard and what does it mean that these contests occur? Can these desires be reconciled into a 'win-win' solution or must they be mutually exclusive? How does the acknowledgement of the interaction of desires contribute to moving the 'land grabs' debate forward? An analysis of the web of desires could contribute to our overall understanding of the role of desire in the creation of and hindrance to economic development.

panel IW007
Desire and the ethnography of economic and political change