Informations et ressources scientifiques
sur le développement des zones arides et semi-arides

Accueil du site → Doctorat → Finlande → Land and Labour : The Micropolitics of Resource Grabbing in Kenya

University of Helsinki (2018)

Land and Labour : The Micropolitics of Resource Grabbing in Kenya

Ouma, Katono

Titre : Land and Labour : The Micropolitics of Resource Grabbing in Kenya

Auteur : Ouma, Katono

Université de soutenance : University of Helsinki,

Grade : Doctoral Dissertation 2018

This is a study of the micropolitics of land and labour in the context of a wetland in western Kenya that has been subject to a long history of a development-endorsed agricultural scheme that was initiated by British colonial rulers, later by Kenya’s powerful state actors, and finally as part of the more recent food, fuel and finance-influenced global interest on land. In 2003, the Kenyan Government leased 6,900 hectares of land to an American-based investor for large-scale rice production. Drawing on eight months of ethnographic research, this study illustrates the significant transformation that accompanies large scale agricultural enterprises facilitated by land grabs. It resonates with the narrative that is often told about the differentiation of the peasantry, and the sharp inequalities that emerge from this process.

While the forceful expulsion of peasant populations has received significant attention in the land grab literature, the labour dimension remains largely underexplored, with empirical studies on the subject scant. This study examines the experiences of local people who have been incorporated into the foreign-owned agricultural scheme in various capacities. Engaging labour as a central empirical category, it examines the labour regime and practices instituted in the enterprise, therefore bringing into focus a critical space for analysing workers’ everyday work lives. Borrowing from Michael Burawoy’s work on industrial labour regimes and processes, the thesis argues that struggles and conflicts between enterprise managers and workers are not just structural but are a result of a particular way in which labour processes at the site of production are organised. Hence, what requires analyses are the dynamics of the ‘relations in production’ which is distinct from the ‘relations of production’ and be defined as the social relations between and amongst workers. This study therefore elucidates some of the everyday labour struggles, conflicts, hierarchies and solidarities that emerge from the nature of the production of labour regimes instituted.

This thesis also examines how seasonal/casual workers individually and collectively consolidate and negotiate their positions in the sphere of work. Using James Scott’s notion of ‘infrapolitics’ as real politics, the study analyses the covert and insidious avenues through which workers assert their claims and express their resistance. On this particular scheme, permanent recruits have established themselves as key figures with wide-ranging roles and responsibilities. They seemed to have monopolised significant portions of the ‘pie’ and have diminished the boundaries within which the casual workforce can survive and make a decent living as agricultural labourers. Routine covert resistance by casual recruits indicates a concerted effort to renegotiate the margins of existing labour relationships, to test what can be gotten away with, and to include these margins as a part of a tolerable claim. Resistance on this agricultural project resembles nothing that one would imagine in the typical history of rural politics. There are no riots, strikes or open violent conflict. The kind of resistance that occurs here is cautious. It seems to address workers’ immediate concerns without necessarily challenging and compromising the existence of the agricultural scheme in question. The infrapolitics that occurs on this enterprise is part of a more general desire by local residents who have been abandoned by the State and hope to be free of poverty, despite the limited opportunities that the agricultural scheme provides them.

This thesis has relevance for scholars and policy makers that are keen on the transformations that occur in the wake of the more recent global revaluation of land, and more specifically, in the labour politics that play out within emergent agribusiness enterprises.

Mots clés : Land grab, labour, land, ethnography, hierarchies, rivalries, differentiation, micropolitics, wetlands, resistance, infrapolitics, conflict


Version intégrale (4 Mb)

Page publiée le 25 avril 2023