Sub-theme 4. Commons between colonial legacies and the Anthropocene
The colonial enterprise and the commons: conflict or congruence over ideas and institutions for colonial productivity and today’s development
In colonial economies, common lands and forests are areas identified as targets for mise en valeur (literally – “put to valuable use”). The transformation of commons into ‘valuable’ lands for the colonial enterprise took place through the requirement of forest and land being cleared and rendered productive, or risk it being claimed by the colonial state as idle land to be allocated to private companies. This concept was implemented by colonial administrations in varied forms throughout the Global South as a means to gain profits through investments in development of land and forests and control of local people as labor. These practices were subsequently adopted by most post-colonial Governments as ‘development’. It stands in opposition to the understanding of people’s traditional rights to commons, and their different values and governance of non-human aspects of the landscape. Thus, the cornerstone of the relationship between people and commons is eliminated by the concept of mise en valeur. This long and large-scale disruption of customary norms is, we argue, the foundation of the Anthropocene. In this panel, we investigate the expressions of the colonial enterprise in today’s global forest and land governance, and in claims over what constitutes as productivity and development. Colonial legacies are multi-faceted, in terms of both outcomes (institutions, social-environmental justice) and mechanisms (laws, policies, discourses, narratives). We invite papers that explore and analyze these nuances in struggles over the commons and resistance to the colonial enterprise and is attentive to local histories, cultures, identities and institutions of commons.
1. A French legacy to the global commons: colonizer and former colonized compared
University of Lausanne, Switzerland
Many countries are recognizing how their commons contribute to social and environmental outcomes. However, this is not the case in France or possibly for many former French colonies. France’s colonising effects over centuries on numerous territories show well-studied impacts on labour, resources, sovereignty, customary regimes, with continued legacies. Less well-known is France’s approach to commons in its own mainland territory.
I compare France (colonizer) and Gabon (former colony) in the recognition and survival of the commons over time, looking at locally rooted cases. In colonial Gabon, commons were requisitioned by France and then administered by companies for financial gain; post-Independence control was granted to the state. However, since 2011, some initiatives seek to recognize tenure while other claims remain ignored. In France, since the 1700s, rooted in state efficiency and equality, many commons were eradicated. France has consistently levied laws that reduce their remaining commons, including a 2013 law which reduced self-governance in a particularly large type of common (“section de commune”), and a 2019 law proposal which aims to commons-grab thousands of areas.
These comparative cases demonstrate the legacy of centralized land control and alienation of common property. In both countries, extremes of engaged citizens claiming their rights coexist with those which have ceded control to the state. While Gabon is trying to recognize some its commons, France has yet to accept many of its own. In both cases, lost commons result in a diminished ability of a country and its commons to respond to environmental and social dilemmas.
2. ‘Conscripts of Native Title’: Law, Coloniality and Violence in Sarawak’s Landmark NCR Judicial Decisions
Research Institute for Humanity and Nature, Japan
By focusing on key landmark judicial decisions on common law recognition of native title (particularly the cases of ‘Nor Anak Nyawai’ and ‘TR Sandah’) in the postcolonial Malaysian state of Sarawak, this article seeks to critically interrogate the element of coloniality that persists in the Malaysian courts’ legal construction of the native subject and customary rights to land. We argue that the courts’ rendering of historical narratives of Sarawak’s colonial past in these decisions continue to determine the legal, political and economic destinies of natives in the present. A close reading of these landmark decisions will demonstrate how common law native title performs the double logic of violence that Renisa Mawani described as the “mutual and reciprocal violence of law as symbolic and material force and law as document and documentation”. The courts’ acts of remembering and forgetting, alongside implicit assertions of colonial sovereignty in the past and postcolonial sovereignty in the present, the law’s archival function in other words, intervene directly and form a crucial element in the assemblage (dispositif) or technologies of ruling native peoples and their lands in Sarawak today. Finally, the article seeks to problematize current debates on “the different powers that shape exclusion from land”, refocusing on the question of violence and sovereignty in a world inundated by global flows of capital and investment.
3. When national is the new colonial: controlling people and freeing business?
On December 6, 2022, the Indonesian government issued a revised criminal law, some parts of which concern the personal freedom of its citizens. One year ago, the government issued a law that provides more freedom for the private sector to start an enterprise including in using natural resources. Although stated as a rejection of colonialism, these laws show its lingering impacts, how the democratic state maintains colonial traits to maintain power and control. In the forest sector, for example, the freedom of people living in or near forest resources are being regulated by the state at the same time that the requirement for environmental impact assessment for large scale enterprises is being lifted and small scale actors are driven to become entrepreneurs. How will this affect the social forestry program in Indonesia?. Ostensible to provide access to local and indigenous communities to forest and forest resources, in fact it is strengthening the colonial legacy of the state taking and having control over forests and forest resources and its inhabitants. We use policy document review, participant observation, and key informant interviews to discuss and better understand how colonization remains embedded in the state-forest-people relations.
4. Forest inequalities have a history. Colonial forest policies and the production of inequalities in the management of the Congo Basin forests.
Center for Research and Action for Sustainable Developement (CERAD) and FOREQUAL Research Project, Cameroon
Keywords : Congo Basin, forests, statehood, governmentalisation, forest inequalities, dispossession and marginalisation of forest dwellers, extraversion of the forest economy.
The management of the Congo Basin forests is the field of expression of both historical and contextual inequalities. These inequalities are expressed both within States and in their relations with the former Western colonial powers. Within the Congo Basin States, they take the form of ‘governmentalisation’ of forest management and the dispossession and marginalisation of forest dwellers in forest management. Indeed, forest inequalities are the product of colonial forest policies. They are the result of three structuring logics of forest management put in place since the colonial period : appropriation by dispossession of the forests, concessionary policy and the rentier logic. Subject to the colonial land tenure system, colonial forestry policies were based on the notion of ‘vacant and unowned land’ (herrenloses land), which became the possession and property of the colonial State and could only be occupied by the colonial Government, which was the only one allowed to transfer ownership or lease it. This is the historical basis of the policy of accumulation by dispossession of the lands and forests of the Congo Basin.
In the relations between the Congo Basin States and the former colonial powers, forest inequalities take the form of the capture of State sovereignty in the management of the Congo Basin forests and the extraversion of the Congo Basin forest economy. From a constructivist perspective, our paper analyses this situation in two parts : the founding ideas and logics of colonial forest policies and colonial forest policies as a vector of inequalities.
5. Forests, social networks and argumentation of the colonial project – cases from Malaysia and Cameroon
1University of Helsinki, Finland, 2Stockholm Resilience Centre, Sweden, 3RIHN, Japan
Forests and forestlands are being claimed since colonial times for a myriad of global interconnected interests. These interests are embodied in plantations and concessions in colonial territories to provide new materials such as oilpalm, rubber, hardwoods as well as colonial crops of addiction (e.g. tea, coffee, sugar, tobacco and opium) to markets in the Global North. Multiple flows are connected to the plantation as an infrastructure: flows of ideas and finance related to and justifying trade and investments and the extraction of rents. We present a comparative analysis of these flows and their interconnectivities in Borneo and the Congo Basin using social network analysis (SNA) techniques. We use contemporary databases such as the Land Matrix and Orbis to identify financial networks of resource exchange linked to specific localities. We combined these with archival material related to selected German and British company histories (e.g. Woermann, NBCC) and actors’ participation in key colonial and contemporary policy events (e.g. Schutzvertrag) and company board memberships. This enables us to identify argumentation networks over time. The networks show diverse arguments that criticise or legitimise such global commodity chains and the extraction of rents from forests and forest lands by actors representing the Global North, while delegitimating local land use is dominant across different actor groups. This analysis adds to the wider literature and represents an innovative approach to analyse finance with argumentation networks over time in a situation of scarce and incomplete data, thereby advancing earlier work on SNA and corporate elites.