Land deals, residents’ voices and entangled landscapes

Diverse engagements of rural residents in Zambia with processes of large-scale land acquisition

The immense global increase in Large-Scale Land Acquisitions (LSLAs) from the early 2000s onward has been reflected in a growing body of research on land deals and/or land grabbing. However, within this literature, there is usually little attention devoted to the heterogeneity of ‘communities’ residing in areas faced with LSLAs. Residents are presented only as a homogeneous and passive ‘affected community’, which does not match the realities on the ground. Additionally, LSLAs are often studied at only one particular moment in time, treating land deals as standalone events rather than ongoing and historically embedded processes. After the initial acquisition of land, however, many rural residents are often left ‘in limbo’: LSLAs are rarely straightforward processes, projects are often abandoned or changed by investors over time. Residents constantly have to adapt and renegotiate their positions and their engagements with the LSLA projects, and many face an ongoing threat of eviction. Simultaneously, critical public attention devoted to the residents’ cases fades as time goes by. My project focuses on the ongoing realities of LSLAs in Zambia, a country which has seen a recent increase in LSLAs for agriculture, with the aim of enhancing the understanding of the heterogeneity and diversity among rural residents faced with agricultural land deals, and their engagements with LSLAs over time, within a wider contexts.

Hard Facts

project duration: July 2022 – June 2024

funding: ÖAW DOC fellowship

project by: Eline Castelijns

supervisor: Peter Schweitzer

Becoming a State Actor. Prison Officer Training in Accra, Ghana

Weberian ideals of the neutrality and loyalty to the office of civil servants are globally widespread notions that often form the basis for a deficiency discourse of the civil service in the Global South. My doctoral project aims to illuminate the production of the self-understanding of state actors and the relationships actors develop with ‘the’ state in the training of Ghanaian prison staff. Focusing on the process of creating a state awareness gives an insight beyond preconceived notions and questions global (western) ideals of a ‘functioning state’. While much work has been done on the state consciousness of civil servants in the social sciences, the process of becoming a state actor has not been addressed. When looking at the question on how a unified ethos is produced, Ghana is an interesting case to study as existing research with civil servants (including my own), has shown that despite diverse affiliations (ethnic, religious, linguistic), Ghanaian civil servants have a strong commitment to the ‘good of the nation’. Because the prison is an important part/ in the centre of ‘the’ state, I look at the development of norms and values in the training of Ghanaian prison staff. The transformation process of recruits into state actors is made visible by applying long-term ethnographic research in the Prison Officer Training School (POTS) in Accra. My project combines anthropological theory to state, related debates on bureaucracy and the civil service, and prison ethnographies. It contributes to the literature on prisons by providing insight into prison staff training that has received little attention so far.

Hard Facts

project duration: November 2020 – 2024

funding: sowi:docs fellowship

project by: Marlene Persch

supervisor: Tatjana Thelen

The role of knowledge and epistemology – between colonial reproduction and social alternatives. An analysis based on Afro-Colombian women's movements in North Cauca Region

Afro-descendant communities on North-Cauca Colombia face complex socio-ecological conflicts: their territories have been historically affected by mining and dam projects. The favourable situation of international markets for the sale of raw materials since 2000 has led to an increase in mining projects. At the same time, social and political organization have gained force. Afro Colombian population aim the recognition as legal, political and knowledge subjects. In a context of  ethnic minorities rights demands and the peace process, this research project focusses on the analysis of afro women groups strategies to respond to environmental and social-historical circumstances. Particularly, the role of knowledge expressed in the understanding of socio-ecological interactions, communal dynamics, and the role of women in social and political processes, is explored. Participatory observation and visual anthropology are methodological pillars of this research project.

Hard Facts

project duration: October 2020 – September 2023

funding: ÖAW DOC-Team

project by: Jenny Marcela Torres Heredia

supervisor: Patricia Zuckerhut

Rose-colored glasses of urban renewal: Vienna’s branding vs. doing policy

The city of Vienna, Austria, proudly positions itself as a forerunner when it comes to participatory policy in the domain of urban renewal. The city’s self-representation is lent international legitimacy through practitioners of other places looking up at Viennese policy, as well as through the most prestigious UN Habitat prize “Scroll of Honour”. My work aims to understand the relation of involved governance arrangements with inclusiveness: whom are the policy practices serving in what ways? I look at how values drive everyday practices of urban renewal through the vantage point of a public service facility endowed with participatory tasks in this context. Ironically, at times inclusion as a value held by practitioners does not drive inclusiveness. In part, barriers to inclusiveness arise from local governance arrangements but in part from larger globalized processes. Public renewal projects commonly have the goal of providing the public good of public space “to all”. However, new public goods such as transparency or decentralization sometimes get in its way.

Hard Facts

project duration: April 2020 – March 2023

funding: ÖAW DOC fellowship

project by: Catherine Raya Polishchuk Clivaz

supervisor: Ayse Caglar

Aging and care in rural Latvia

The research project studies institutional eldercare as a relational practice and a resource for social reproduction in rural Latvia. Theoretically, this dissertation is inspired by anthropological studies of aging, current debates of care, as well as contextually built upon emptying rural Latvia. In the last decade, more than ten regional schools have been transformed into nursing homes for older adults, locally known as social care centers. Social care centers provide not only care for older adults but also jobs, income, and a possibility to stay for other local people in times and places marked by precarity. Thus, eldercare circulates across community shaping various experiences and consequences of life for different people. The objective of this dissertation is through care practices to observe and analyze the conjunction of aging as personally and socially meaningful transitions, a sense of (un)belonging among older adults and other local people, and possible (re)creation of imagined futures in and of rural Latvia.

Hard Facts

project duration: October 2019 – September 2022

funding: uni:docs (Universität Wien)

project by: Anna Zabicka

supervisor: Tatjana Thelen