The government of (post)socialist Laos has conceded more than 1 million hectares of land—5 percent of the national territory—to resource investors, threatening rural community access to customary lands and forests. However, investors have not been able to use all of the land granted to them, and their projects have generated geographically uneven dispossession due to local resistance. Based on twenty months of ethnographic fieldwork, this article compares how dispossession materialized in eight villages targeted by a Vietnamese rubber plantation and a Chinese pulpwood plantation in southern Laos. I contribute to a nascent literature on the political contingencies of dispossession by showing how extraeconomic forces of expropriation are governed relationally. Developing a Gramscian relational environmental governance framework, I demonstrate how such contingencies are shaped by social and political relations among and internal to state, capital, and community actors, leading to either the extension and solidification or contraction and fragmentation of dispossession as a hegemonic mode of development. In the case at hand, I focus on four sets of decisive relations: (1) corporate–state relations that mediate the capacity of investors to mobilize state powers of land expropriation; (2) the state’s discursive framing of socioenvironmental relations between communities and their rural environments, which affects how amenable village territories are to acquisition; (3) community–government relations built on kinship, ethnic, or historical links that villagers can use to lodge effective grievances with the state; and (4) coherent and democratic internal village relations that build community solidarity against plantation development.
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