Sub-Project F07: Local orders under threat from land grabbing – Global civil society and international law as curse or blessing?


Project F07 examines, on the basis of concrete case studies from Peru, the Philippines, Senegal and Sierra Leone, the following issues:

  1. under what circumstances do local groups threatened by ‘land grabbing’ mobilize against the predations of globally operating firms, deploying more or less violent means in their defense?;
  2. what, in this connection, is the role of a) the transnational movement opposed to land grabbing and b) the dominant semantics of international law (as applicable from case to case)?; and
  3. how do local orders change as a result of protest as well as local-transnational cooperation?

Project Team

Project Leader:

Prof. Dr. Andreas Hasenclever

Prof. Dr. Jochen von Bernstorff


Jan Sändig

Annette Schramm

Markus Hasl

Academic Disciplines and Orientation

Political Sciences, Peace and Conflict Studies, International Law

Project Description

The project looks at resistance against land grabbing by affected local communities and seeks to understand differences in mobilization and protest forms. It thereby focuses on the role of transnational civil society organizations and international law in shaping these protests.

Large-scale land deals by foreign investors often have negative consequences for the local population, for example through dispossession/expropriation, environmental damages, loss of livelihoods and unemployment. Consequently we would expect massive protest against land grabbing. However, there are cases where the population seems to stay passive. At the same time, we can observe different types of protests: Some groups work closely with international non-governmental organizations, which can in turn garner international attention; other groups only mobilize locally. We furthermore expect to find differences in forms of resistance and in the demands groups make in regards to a land deal. Last but not least the interactions with international civil society actors can in turn have effects on the social order of local groups.

The main focus of this research project is the mobilization of local groups against land grabbing, their interaction with the transnational civil society and their different interpretations of international norms and laws respectively. We expect these interactions to change local power relations. International NGOs can support local groups to organize and fund their resistance, which can have empowering effects. On the downside their can also be negative consequences to this outside support, as NGOs sometimes work with a preset picture of the situation and local groups have to fulfill certain requirements to qualify for support. International law can have interesting effects as well: On the one hand, it opens up space in which groups can articulate their concerns and demands. On the other hand, it can nonetheless exert considerable amount of pressure to use a certain language or framing in order to be heard. In this way international law can influence and change local groups and their behavior.

The project examines three cases of land grabbing in Peru, the Philippines, Senegal and Sierra Leone respectively. The chosen cases vary both in the manner of protest (local-transnational protest vs. solely local protest vs. no protest) and the invoked protest semantics (human rights vs. food sovereignty). Through intra- and inter-state comparison the project seeks to identify the effects local-transnational interaction and the existing framework of international law have on the protests. Furthermore, the project scrutinizes the effects emanating from the given protest on the local economic and social orders. Thereby it focusses on the CRC-dimension of mobilization and analyses the threat-orientated communication among local groups affected by land grabbing. Moreover the project will trace local power structures and the ways they might be changed by the local-transnational cooperation (process of re-ordering).

Course of action

In the first phase, existing studies concerning protest against land grabbing will be reviewed and interviews with stakeholders will be conducted. Thereby relevant data will be gathered concerning the network structure, the different sociological, political and legal interpretive schemes, the relevant actors and the deployed resources in the transnational movement against land grabbing. On the basis of this data we will identify the central actors and the different protest-dominating legal semantics.

After the first phase the political scientists in the project will carry out the case studies including fieldwork in Peru, the Philippines, Senegal and Sierra Leone. With respect to each country, one case will be assessed showing local protest with transnational interaction, local protest without transnational interaction and the absence of protest respectively. The study in international law seeks to identify the relevant legal norms and concepts and their respective influence on the protest. Particularly important in that regard are human rights, the concept of food sovereignty and the seemingly opposed international investment law. Concerning the involved actors the research will especially inquire into the question whether and to what extent local communities are to be recognized as actors relevant to international law.

Based on the collected data and material the project will finally be able to assess the effects of the interaction between the transnational civil society, international law and local actors. Thereby, the interpretive schemes, resources and organizational forms used by international actors and their effects on the local communication about the threat and the mobilization for protest are taken into consideration. At the same time, it can be displayed how far the protests and the transnational cooperation alter the local order (process of re-ordering) and whether the local communities themselves help shape rules of international law.

Project-related Publications and Presentations




Congresses, Workshops, and Conferences