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Conservation and Society
An interdisciplinary journal exploring linkages between society, environment and development
Conservation and Society
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Year : 2004  |  Volume : 2  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 137-161

Post-socialist Property Rights for Akha in China: What is at Stake?

The Watson Institute for International Studies, Brown University, Providence, RI, USA

Correspondence Address:
Janet C Sturgeon
The Watson Institute for International Studies, Brown University, Providence, RI
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

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This article describes resource access conflicts in south-western China as a social­ist regime was legislated away in favour of a 'socialist market economy'. The dis­cussion is framed around two contradictions and one inconsistency. The first con­tradiction is between a state vision of exclusive, delimited property rights leading to simplified agricultural production and the Akha practice of a complex, mutable landscape. The second contradiction is between two strands within the state devel­opment mission, one emphasising poverty alleviation and the other fostering market competition. The inconsistency is between agriculture and forestry departments in the degree of emphasis on clear property rights. The local conflicts explore how the two contradictions intersect, pitting villagers at times against state property rights, and at other times with 'the state' and against a corrupt administrative village head. These result in 'fuzzy' property in Verdery's definitions. New sources of fuzziness reside in agricultural ecologies based on regeneration processes, and tensions in the 'socialist market economy'. State and local actors lean towards either the socialist or market side. What is at stake here are two related issues: the extent to which Akha can practise flexible access and land uses, and the state of the state.

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