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What is Land? An Anthropological Perspective | Engaging Resources
New Anthropological Perspectives on Natural Resource Environments

What is Land? An Anthropological Perspective

Tania Murray Li, University of Toronto

Land is a strange object. One aspect of its material form is unique: it stays in place. Although it is often treated as a thing and sometimes as a commodity, it isn’t like a mat: the person or group claiming possession can’t roll it up and take it away. They must rely on regimes of exclusion that distinguish legitimate from illegitimate uses and users, and inscribe boundaries through devices such as fences, title deeds, laws, zones, regulations, landmarks and story-lines. The legitimacy of exclusionary regimes is routinely contested. Some argue that conservation should trump production; that subsistence needs should trump commodity values; that efficient uses should displace wasteful ones; that land as territory and a site of belonging trumps its utilitarian value. This lecture explores the relation between the materiality of land and its intensely social character as the ultimate resource, the one on which all forms of life depend.