Contested Global Landscapes

A Multidisciplinary Initiative of the Cornell Institute for the Social Sciences

  • A small farm in the Galápagos Islands, Ecuador, where agriculture struggles for a place.

  • Sharing bananas on a farm in Santa Cruz, Galápagos Islands, Ecuador.

  • Landless laborers on a sugarcane plantation in northeastern Brazil.

  • A small farm nestled amidst rolling hills dedicated to sugarcane.

  • A land reform settler shows off his house and fields in northeastern Brazil.

  • Two different landscapes: sugarcane fields meet small farms. Photo credit: Douglas Mansur.


The past decade has seen an enormous rush to acquire land, a phenomenon that some have dubbed a “global land grab.” These acquisitions are motivated by rising food and fuel prices, anticipated commodity and resource scarcities, new incentives for financial speculation, and concerns over dwindling spaces for “nature.” As reports of a “global food crisis,” peak oil, global climate change and ecological devastation multiply, the hunt for land and access to its riches similarly intensifies. This ISS Theme Project analyzes the diversity and complexity of land deals both as a lived experience and as a changing set of global relationships. We contextualize the rush to enclose land within four related global transformations referenced to property, governance, economy and livelihood.

Contested Global Landscapes Blog

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Can the UN's land guidelines help Uganda's threatened fisherfolk?

January 30th, 2015

The past decade has witnessed global outcry over a new era of ‘land grabbing’ and, in response, there have been numerous efforts to halt and reverse the corporate takeover of community land. Initially presented as investors grabbing land from rural people, it has since become clear that most such ‘grabs’ involve national[...]

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Tackling land questions: Searching for systematic solutions amid a web of politics

November 13th, 2014

Across the world, access to land and related resources are probably our most hotly contested political issues: who does the land belong to, who has the right to access the land, who gets to make decisions about land use, and who is barred from the land are tied to people’s[...]

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Land policy for the next decade: Taking stock and moving forward

November 12th, 2014

The inaugural Conference on Land Policy in Africa got off to an energetic start on Tuesday 11 November 2014 at the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa, with a panel of eminent speakers issuing a clarion call for action to secure the land rights of rural residents across the continent.[...]

Summer Institute 2014

The second Summer Institute on Contested Global Landscapes, sponsored by the Institute for the Social Sciences, is scheduled to be held at Cornell University from May 18-23, 2014. Participants will include advanced graduate students (i.e., completing dissertations) and junior scholars (i.e., who received a Ph.D. after May 2011) in the humanities, social sciences, and other relevant disciplines. The theme of the 2014 Summer Institute is “Knowledge and the Politics of Land.”