Bringing Moral Economy into the Study of Land Deals: Reflections from Madagascar

Mathilde Gingembre is an affiliate researcher with the ERC-funded PASTRES project and was at IDS on 19th March to deliver a seminar entitled, ‘Bringing Moral Economy into the Study of Land Deals: Reflections from Madagascar’.

Mathilde is an anthropologist who has worked in Madagascar on land deals for a number of years. She completed her PhD at IDS, Sussex on this topic and is now based in Amman, Jordan.

The seminar discussed the concept of moral economy as a critical lens to understand responses to corporate land access within agrarian economies. Drawing on ethnographic work in an agropastoral area of southern Madagascar, the presentation highlighted how villagers’ perceptions of land deals as well as their decisions to express, or suppress, their voices in land deal negotiations are closely tied to considerations of relational justice.

Consultation processes for corporate land access within agrarian economies are the sites of multiple contentions, many of which divide the “local communities” themselves. Local people do not only disagree over which struggle to engage with (struggle against dispossession, struggle for incorporation), but also over the issue of who has rights to the land. In contexts where land tenure is characterised by flexibility and where land claims overlap and collide – as in rural Madagascar– choices as to who to involve locally in discussions over land transfers are sensitive and political.

Beyond these tensions, however, a strong consensus on the moral economic obligations of those benefiting (directly or indirectly) from corporate land access is observed. The seminar explored the resistance to the “de-moralising of land deals” that is expressed by local people, across social divides.

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