From Fellow Anne Griffiths: I have chosen land because of its importance in multiple domains. It not only forms a crucial resource for families’ and households’ livelihoods and capital accumulation in a local context, but also forms a core component of macro perspectives that center on national, international and transnational engagement with trade and commerce in the global market place.

Thus land embodies spaces that are not only physical and territorial in nature, but that are also more intangible, embodying the product of social relationships. Law plays an important part in these processes dealing with the regulation of land over time.

Baobab sunset, Botswana

Key Terms

Governance: Covers the wide range of norms and techniques that are used to regulate people’s access to and control over land. These vary according to both formal and informal legal mechanism that cover both written, statutory law and unwritten, oral customary law and the norms that apply to the distribution and transfer of land.

See: Griffiths, A. (2009). Anthropological Perspectives on Legal Pluralism and Governance in a Transnational World in M. Freeman and D. Napier (Eds.), Law and Anthropology, Current Legal Issues Vol. 2. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Development: A concept that deals with notions of enhanced economic progress for states, as well as for its citizens. The forms that it takes are heavily contested, especially those promoted by international agencies dealing with enhanced livelihoods and well-being of the world’s populations and notions of ‘sustained development.

See: Lund, C. (2010). Approaching development: an opinionated reviewProgress in Development Studies, (10)1, 19-34.

Methodology and forms of inquiry: Social scientific and anthropological perspectives on law offering alternative perspectives on deciphering what constitutes law and how it is experienced from a ‘bottom up’ perspective.

See: Griffiths, A. (2005). Using Ethnography as a Tool in Legal Research: An Anthropological Perspective’ in Banakar and M. Travers (Eds.) Theory and Method in Socio-Legal ResearchOxford, UK: Hart Publishing.

Discussion Questions

1) Why is it important to explore the global importance of land from a ‘bottom’ or ‘ground’ up perspective that engages with ‘local contexts’? What alternative insights do these perspective offer with respect to more formalis approaches applied to law and development in this arena?

2) Why is it important to take account of legal pluralism or law’s plurality in addressing questions about the normative regulation of access and and distribution of land?

3) Why is it important to take account of the role of history in providing a context for linking people’s, especially women’s, current experiences in relation to control over land with the past? How is ‘history’ constructed and whose views does it privilege over others that are silenced or excluded?

Supplemental Readings

Appadurai, A. (2003). Sovereignty without Territorialiality: Notes on a Post-national Geography in S. M. Law and D. Lawrence-Zuniga (Eds.), The Anthropology of Space and Placce: Locating Culture, pp 337-349. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.

Commisision on Legal Empowerment of the Poor. (2008). Report of the Commission on Legal Empowerment of the Poor: Making the law Work for Everyone, Vol 1. Commission on the Legal Empowerment of the Poor and the United Nation’s Development Programme.

Cooper, F. (2005). What is the Concept of Globalization Good For? An African Historian’s Perspective reprinted in F. Cooper Colonialism in Questions; Theory, Knowledge and Hisotry, pp 91-112. Berkeley, Ca: University of California Press.

Cotula, L., Toulmin, C. and Hess, C. (2004). Land Tenure and Administration in Africa: Lessons of Experience and Emerging Issues, International Institute for Environment and Development (iied), London.

Cotula, L., Oya, C., Codjoe, E.A., Eid, A., Kakraba-Ampeh, M., Keeley, J.,  Kidewa, A.L., Makwarimba, M., Seide, W.M., Nasha, W.O., Asare, R.O., and Rizzo, M. (2014). Testing Claims about Large Land Deals in Afica: Findings from a Multi-Country StudyThe Journal of Development Studies, 50(7), 903-925.

de Sousa Santos, B. and Rodriguez-Garanto, C. (2005). Law and Globalization from Below: Towards a Cosmopolitan Legality. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Dezeley, Y. and Garth, B. (2012). Lawyers and the Construction of Transnational Justice: Law, Development and Globalization. New York, NY: Routledge.

Kyed, H.M. (Guest Ed.) (2011) Legal Pluralism and International Development Interventions, Special Issue of Journal of Legal Pluralism and Unofficial Law, 43(63).

Stewart, A. (2011). ‘From anonymity to attribution; producing food in a global value chain’ pp 129-161 in A. Steward (2011) Gender, Justice and Law in a Global Market. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press

von Benda-Beckmann, F,  and K and Griffiths, A. (2009). The Power of Law in a Transnational World: Anthropological Enquiries. New York, NYBerghahn


Oral History Network — University of Warwick


1. Documentary: Dead Birds

2. Documentary: Waiting for Harry

3. Documentary: Land Rush