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The Social Construction of Land: Challenges from Land Conflicts

Land as the core natural resource that serves many purposes has not only become much scarcer and often more degraded during the last two decades. The social construction of land, which has always been diverse for historical, economic and biophysical reasons, has also become weaker and is often undergoing strong disruptions. In particular, the central role of institutions and governance structures in regularizing human interactions and transactions towards sustainable allocation, use and management of land as a key natural resource needs to be revisited.

In some developing countries, for example, opportunistic acquisition of land has become a practice which causes intense academic and political discourses at the international level. However, effective solutions to mitigate the often substantial environmental, economic, and social consequences have not been found. Further, in post-socialist countries, enormous changes in property rights on land have been witnessed and sometimes failed to achieve the objective of producing a just and productive land tenure system. Appropriation of land was often strongly influenced by power resources of actors. Increasing demand for land from domestic or foreign investors has led to a revival of the struggle for land in some transition countries; even in East Germany where more and more non-farmers entered the land market. As a result, even large farms which compete with those investors are hardly able to keep the area of agricultural land they need to stay economically viable. At the same time, urban demand for land increases and more and more land is converted for residential construction, commercial use and traffic areas.

The working group aims to achieve a better understanding of land conflicts from an institutional perspective and, based on this, may be able to recommend feasible solutions. In view of this general objective, the working group has defined the following specific objectives:

  • Identify the main types of land conflicts and show why institutional analysis may contribute to a better understanding of such conflicts
  • Stimulate preliminary studies and literature reviews to prepare in-depth research and develop research questions relevant to land issues
  • Encourage studies that follow a special focus, for example, property rights in transition countries or property rights allocation entailed in lease contracts
  • Identify and explore data, documents and appropriate empirical methods available
  • Select promising research approaches for institutional analysis on selected issues, for example, the discrepancy between formal and effective property rights
  • Design research strategies and attract funds for collaborative projects
  • Enhance communication on the research process and dissemination of the results among scholars, politicians, administrators, NGOs and civil society
  • Offer topics and advice for Bachelor and Master theses and student projects.


  • The group meets regularly every fourth week on Monday.
  • The group will present updates on its research initiatives, proposals and projects and other activities every semester in meetings and seminars.
  • Young scholars from the group will present their research proposals and results in colloquia, workshops and summer schools.
  • Academic workshops and policy dialogue events with scholars and decision-makers are organised for communication and dissemination.

The working group presently includes professors, senior researchers, PhD students and post-docs from different universities and research institutes. Subgroups can be formed for special tasks.

Group members

Konrad Hagedorn (Speaker)
Volker Beckmann
Katharina Farrell
Christian Schleyer
Wibke Crewett

Contact details of the group speakers

1. Konrad Hagedorn (Speaker)

Phone: +49(0)30 2093-46362

E-mail: k.hagedorn@agrar.hu-berlin.de