Titling against grabbing? Critiques and conundrums around land formalisation in Southeast Asia | Land Portal

Resource information

Date of publication: 
December 2011
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ISBN / Resource ID: 

Debates and critiques around land policy often focus on the neo-liberal agenda of formalising land as alienable property, most notably through land titling schemes. Sometimes these schemes are posited against alternatives such as land reform and community land holding under common property arrangements. Claims and counter- claims are made for land titling as a means to boost smallholder security in the face of involuntary or otherwise unfair alienation of land sometimes under the rubric of land grabbing. This paper problematises the ways in which assertions are made on behalf of land titling, critiques are constructed against formalised title in land, and debates are framed in the context of land grabbing. A diverse range of perspectives on land titling in Southeast Asia reveals not only contrary positions, but also lines of argument that talk past each other as often as they engage with one another. Underlying this rather unsatisfactory way in which an important policy arena is discussed at both academic and societal levels is a set of conundrums based as much in internal contradictions and dilemmas as in clear alternatives between different land policy approaches. The paper draws on land titling experience in several Southeast Asian countries to illustrate these conundrums and the ways in which land titling is understood by different actors vis-a-vis issues of security of tenure. It begins by outlining the land titling programs and their place within wider land policy and land politics in different countries. It discusses the commonalities associated with a particular approach to land titling supported by the international development establishment, and it sets this against the quite different historical, societal and political contexts in each country in which the approach has been applied. The paper then goes on to identify a range of positions on titling articulated by various actors, linking them where relevant to land grabbing instances and discourses. Problematic positions of advocates and critics of land titling are then discussed, and the paper concludes by calling for debates on land formalisation as alienable property that are more clearly aligned around some key questions relevant to land grabbing.

Authors and Publishers

Author(s), editor(s), contributor(s): 

Hirsch, Philip

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