Our efforts to research the land grab in Cambodia were thwarted on multiple fronts. This article emerges from our collective experiences of fear and intimidation to reconsider land grabs as a project that produces fear and is reliant on fear. Recent literature on resource conflict focuses on acts of physical violence, but for people who live near spaces of land grabs, the everyday is marked by a different kind of violence, an incoherence and pervasive fear that threatens people's sense of self and the entire social fabric of their worlds. We ground our analysis in insights from several years of ethnographic and survey research experience in land conflict areas in Cambodia, detailing how shadowy networks of actors involved in land grabbing layer memories of war and authoritarian regimes with new threats to control populations and facilitate capital accumulation. We argue that in this context, the “grab” is not just a physical enclosure of land but an affective grab that precedes, surrounds, and reverberates beyond the site of the grab itself. Our article seeks to make theoretical contributions in two ways: theorizing fear as a tool of governance that facilitates state control and capital accumulation and, through this analysis, broadening the ontology of land grabs by foregrounding affect in processes of dispossession to show how the grab reverberates beyond bounded sites. The researcher is also subject to violence, raising questions about what ways of knowing are possible as fear shapes the research process and the subjectivities of both researchers and research participants.
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The purpose of the Mekong Land Research Forum online site is to provide structured access to published and unpublished research on land issues in the Mekong Region. It is based on the premise that debates and decisions around land governance can be enhanced by drawing on the considerable volume of research, documented experience and action-based reflection that is available.