Land grabs, labour regimes, and expanding plantations. The 2008 financial crisis and subsequent global “land rush” drew attention to an important social fact:  plantations are again expanding to meet global demand for commodities such as palm oil, rubber, and sugar. I have conducted multi-scalar analysis of how large scale land-deals are conducted, how they are legitimated, and how they may unravel. I have also examined these processes ethnographically in Indonesia’s plantation zones, and examined land dynamics together with labour at both the regional and household scale. Partly in response to the land-grab literature, which highlighted what is being taken away when land is assigned to plantation corporations (customary land, diverse ecologies, farmer autonomy and territorial control) – I have been writing about the sets of economic, social and political relations that plantations install.


Powers of Exclusion: Land Dilemmas in Southeast Asia by By Derek Hall, Philip Hirsch and Tania Murray Li


Questions of who can access land and who is excluded from it underlie many recent social and political conflicts in Southeast Asia. Powers of Exclusion examines the key processes through which shifts in land relations are taking place, notably state land allocation and provision of property rights, the dramatic expansion of areas zoned for conservation, booms in the production of export-oriented crops, the conversion of farmland to post-agrarian uses, “intimate” exclusions involving kin and co-villagers, and mobilizations around land farmed in terms of identity and belonging. In case studies drawn from seven countries, the authors find that four “powers of exclusion” – regulation, market, force and legitimation – have combined to shape land relations in new and often surprising ways.

Land debates are often presented as a conflict between market-oriented land use with full private property rights on one side, and equitable access, production for subsistence, and respect for custom on the other. The authors step back from these debates to point out that any productive use of land requires the exclusion of some potential users, and that most projects for transforming land relations are thus accompanied by painful dilemmas. Rather than counterposing “exclusion” to “inclusion”, the book argues that attention must be paid to who is excluded, how, why, and with what consequences.

Powers of Exclusion draws on insights from multiple disciplines to map out the new contours of struggles for land in Southeast Asia. The volume provides a framework for analyzing the dilemmas of land relations across the Global South and beyond.

For more on Powers of Exclusion, click here.


Ferguson, J., Li, T.M. (2018) ‘Beyond the “Proper Job:” Political-economic Analysis after the Century of Labouring Man’, Working Paper 51. PLAAS, UWC: Cape Town. PDF

(2017) After the land grab: Infrastructural violence and the “Mafia System” in Indonesia’s oil palm plantation zones. Geoforum.

(2017) Intergenerational displacement in Indonesia’s oil palm plantation zone. Journal of Peasant Studies.

(2017) Rendering land investible: Five notes on time. Geoforum. 

(2017) The price of un/freedom: Indonesia’s colonial and contemporary plantation labour regimes. Comparative Studies in Society and History 59(2):245-276

(2017) Transnational Farmland Investment: A Risky Business. Journal of Agrarian Change 15 (4):560-568.

(2017) ‘What is Land? Assembling a Resource for Global Investment, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 39 (4): 589-602

(2017) Centering Labor in the Land Grab Debate. Journal of Peasant Studies 38(2):   281-298. *Italian translation published in Sociologia Del Lavoro no.128 2012)

(2015) Social impacts of oil palm in Indonesia: A gendered perspective from West Kalimantan. Bogor, Indonesia: Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR). 51pp

Policy Briefs

(2018). Evidence-based options for advancing social equity in Indonesian palm oil: Implications for research, policy and advocacy. Centre for International Forestry Research. No. 208, April 2018. 


(2018) Interview by Landscape News: Prioritize smallholder cultivation of oil palm in Indonesia, urges researcher Tania Li