Fictive Futures: Land, Labor, Technology

Call for Panelists: AAA Annual Meeting, November 17-21, 2021, Baltimore, MD

Organizers: Sangeeta Banerji (Rutgers University), Nafis Aziz Hasan (University of California, Los Angeles), and Tariq Rahman (University of California, Irvine)

Discussant: Llerena Searle (University of Rochester)

The worldwide scramble by multinational investment firms, international financial institutions, and postcolonial states to render land into a discrete, knowable, and fungible object has been termed by academics and policymakers alike as the “global land rush.” Anthropologists have linked the global standardization of land to transformations in agricultural labor and rural lifeways (Ofstehage 2018), economic liberalization and unprecedented urban dispossession (Searle 2016), and the turn toward transparency, e-governance, and centralized bureaucratic control (Hull 2012). And yet, land is a “strange object” (Li 2014). On the one hand, land’s fixity in space tends to sabotage efforts to convert it into a standardized liquid asset. On the other hand, land’s existence across time holds together relationships between families, communities, and citizens and the state that defy any singular way of being known or valued. As such, scholars have recently urged attention to the legal, regulatory, and narrative fictions involved in disembedding land from its non-market relations (Ghertner and Lake 2021).

With the aim of turning an ethnographic eye toward the strange object of land and its entanglement with modern markets, technologies, and governance, this panel attends to the crucial work of the intermediaries (Searle 2018, Sud 2014, Levien 2015) that repair, intensify, and sometimes even spoil global aspirations to standardize land. As the land rush reaches ever-further corners of the globe, this panel asks how actors such as brokers, bureaucrats, and lawyers, but also infrastructures, multimedia technologies, and cultural and religious practices chart its course. How is land made, and how do its makers shape land’s meaning? What are the narrative fictions that are peddled about land, and when and why do they fail? What role does the state play in managing land’s fictive futures, and in what ways can land be slippery to the evolving inscriptive practices attached to its futurity? What are the counter narratives that emerge against majoritarian visions for land? Ultimately, this panel asks: How will land’s future be determined?

Llerena Searle will serve as discussant. If you would like to participate, please send a 250-word abstract of your presentation by May 14th to Sangeeta Banerji (, Nafis Aziz Hasan (, and Tariq Rahman ( Keeping in mind the global scale of our theme, we welcome submissions from across regions as well as disciplines. 


Ghertner, D. Asher, and Robert W. Lake. 2021. Land Fictions: The Commodification of Land in City and Country. Cornell University Press.

Hull, Matthew S. 2012. Government of Paper: The Materiality of Bureaucracy in Urban Pakistan. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Levien, Michael. 2015. “Social Capital as Obstacle to Development: Brokering Land, Norms, and Trust in Rural India.” World Development 74: 77–92.

Li, Tania Murray. 2014. “What Is Land? Assembling a Resource for Global Investment.” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 39 (4): 589–602. 

Ofstehage, Andrew L. 2018. “Financialization of Work, Value, and Social Organization among Transnational Soy Farmers in the Brazilian Cerrado.” Economic Anthropology 5 (2): 274–85.

Searle, Llerena Guiu. 2016. Landscapes of Accumulation: Real Estate and the Neoliberal Imagination in Contemporary India. Chicago ; London: University Of Chicago Press.

———. 2018. “The Contradictions of Mediation: Intermediaries and the Financialization of Urban Production.” Economy and Society 47 (4): 524–46.

Sud, Nikita. 2014. “The Men in the Middle: A Missing Dimension in Global Land Deals.” Journal of Peasant Studies 41 (4): 593–612.