Home       About us   Issues     Search     Submission Subscribe   Contact    Login 
Conservation and Society
An interdisciplinary journal exploring linkages between society, environment and development
Conservation and Society
Users Online: 1191 Home Print this page Email this page Small font sizeDefault font sizeIncrease font size

Previous articleTable of Contents Next article

Year : 2004  |  Volume : 2  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 1-17

Post-socialist Property in Asia and Europe: Variations on 'Fuzziness'

1 The Watson Institute for International Studies, Brown University, Box 1970, Providence, RI 02912, USA
2 Humboldt University Berlin, Junior Research Group on Postsocialist Land Relations, Luisenstr. 56, 10117 Berlin, Germany

Correspondence Address:
Janet C Sturgeon
The Watson Institute for International Studies, Brown University, Box 1970, Providence, RI 02912
Login to access the Email id

Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

Rights and Permissions
Date of Web Publication18-Jul-2009


This introduction contextualises the set of articles included in this special issue and discusses their contribution to understanding the observed `fuzziness' ofprop­erty in post-socialist contexts. Katherine Verdery, among others, has highlighted ambiguity, or `fuzziness , as a key feature of post-socialist property relations. Property rights in practice are often quite different from the neo-liberal notion of exclusive.privatepropertypromotedinpost-socialist propertyrefoims. This intro­duction highlights the reasons for fuzziness identified m the individual articles and contrasts them with the overlapping and flexible property relations reported from post-colonial arenas in Africa andAsia. It concludes that post-socialist fuzzy property is similar to post-colonial ambiguous propertyrelations in many respects. The feature setting the former apartis the `lack ofroutinizedrules and crystallized practices of exclusion and inclusion' (Verdery 1999:: 55). The ruptures caused by large-scale economic, political and cultural transformations were rapid and de­stabilising, throwing property, identity and social relations up in the air, and opening up considerable room for manipulation. Local elite found themselves operating in somewhat of a vacuum and quickly asserted control overproductive resources or the processes allocating them.

How to cite this article:
Sturgeon JC, Sikor T. Post-socialist Property in Asia and Europe: Variations on 'Fuzziness'. Conservat Soc 2004;2:1-17

How to cite this URL:
Sturgeon JC, Sikor T. Post-socialist Property in Asia and Europe: Variations on 'Fuzziness'. Conservat Soc [serial online] 2004 [cited 2020 Jul 3];2:1-17. Available from: http://www.conservationandsociety.org/text.asp?2004/2/1/1/49339

Clearly defining land rights during land reforms is key to improving the lives of poor people-farmers and nonfarmers alike.

Formal land titles create secure and transferable property rights by providing better information.

In building these [formal land market] institutions, three characteristics should be kept in mind: clear definition and sound administration of property rights; simple mechanisms for identifying and transferring property rights; and thorough compilation of land titles and free access to this information.

World Bank (2001: 35-37)

Tins ESSAY AND the set of articles collected here counter the assumptions of the neo-liberal paradigm of the ineluctable benefits of exclusive, private property in rural resources. As the quotations above indicate, the neo-liberal paradigm under­lies the World Bank's efforts in land reform throughout the developing world. As shown later, this paradigm makes assumptions about cultural values, power re­lations, legal arrangements and senses of identity that conflict with lived arrange­ments and understandings in many rural settings. We explore how this paradigm has intersected with property relations in post-socialist contexts, with a brief com­parison with post-colonial settings. Our analysis finds that state impositions of individuated, exclusive private property rights in land and trees have in many cases produced the opposite of the WorldDevelopment Report predictions: inse­curity, increased poverty and reduced resource access.

Property relations play a central role in the conservation of natural resources. Yet research in post-colonial contexts of Africa and parts of Asia also shows that property arrangements pertaining to natural resources tend to be highly complex. The arrangements include a wide variety of rights and obligations, which may be distributed among several social actors and overlap in space and time. The rights and obligations may be more flexible than presumed by notions of property as a set of `rules', as they reflect changing patterns of behaviour and ongoing nego­tiations among multiple actors. Conflicts over rights and obligations may also be inseparable from symbolic contestations over meanings and values, obfuscating distinctions between actors, resources, rights and obligations. Property relations in post-colonial arenas may, therefore, be highly ambiguous, defying simplistic notions of ownership-private, public, community or state.

This special issue shifts the analytical lens to post-socialist contexts by introdu­cing research on transformations in rural property relations following decollectiv­isation in Asia and Europe. The issue includes one case each from Albania and Bulgaria, and two each from China and Vietnam. To frame the analysis, we explore political-economic changes embedded in local cultures and social networks. Our focus is on property transformations that involve new meanings for public and private production, market, ownership and 'person-hood'. In other words, we use the ethnographic study of property to discover not only processes of accumulation and dispossession in relation to natural resources, but also how property relations are inseparable from understandings of identity, morality and social connections.

Are property dynamics in Central and Eastern Europe and East Asia comparable, even if the cases are all 'post-socialist'? In comparing the articles, a number of background or historical distinctions become clear immediately. First of all, rural residents in Albania and Bulgaria have experienced the demise of the party-state. In China and Vietnam, by contrast, the party-state is very much alive. Second, rights in land have in principle been `privatised' in Albania and Bulgaria. Yet the Chinese and Vietnamese states have retained formal ownership on the land or the right to reclaim ownership. Third, farmers' experience of land-ownership before collectiv­isation in Albania and Bulgaria was that property rights were close to absolute. The cases in Asia, by contrast, portray pre-socialist practices of resource access involving both collective and household elements and considerable flexibility based on ecological and social variability.' Finally, land use in three of the four cases from Asia relies on regenerative ecological processes in ways different from the settled agriculture in Albanian and Bulgarian cases. Despite the obvious differ­ences, we discovered from the cases themselves that there are similarities across the studies related to Katherine Verdery's (1996, 1999, 2003) conceptualisation of post-socialist property politics. We decided to explore these similarities, as well as the differences, to expand on Verdery's notion of `fuzzy' property.

To accomplish this goal, we asked a series of questions related to the overall question of whether there is anything unique about property relations in the various forms of post-socialist experience across cases from Central and Eastern Europe and East Asia . [2] What meanings do different actors attribute to contested natural resources? What kinds of actors contest and how are they positioned in terms of their economic, political and cultural resources? What means do actors employ in contests over natural resources? How are local contestations linked to broader processes of political-economic and ideological change? What is the role of various state actors in property relations? Who wins and who loses? Ethnographies of property transformations in a variety of post-socialist contexts should provide more general answers to these questions.

Our objective in this introduction is more modest. We focus on the issue of 'fuzziness', a term coined by Katherine Verdery to describe the ambiguity of post-socialist property relations. Verdery asserts that post-socialist property rights are `fuzzy' in the sense that they lack clarity of borders, owners and exclusion. The conditions she describes look very similar to the overlapping and flexible ac­cess to natural resources related in the literature on post-colonial contexts. We ask, therefore, if there is a difference between the fuzziness of post-socialist prop­erty relations and the ambiguity of rights in land, trees and other resources in the post-colonial world. We answer this question by looking at the reasons for post­colonial ambiguity and post-socialist fuzziness as well as broader dynamics shaping property relations in both types of contexts.

To begin with the last question first, we offer a brief discussion about the sources of ambiguity in post-colonial property relations using the work of Sara Berry and Nancy Peluso to illustrate our points. Next, we summarise the work of Katherine Verdery and David Stark on the fuzziness of post-socialist property relations. This short literature review leads into a discussion of the contributions to this issue, comparing the reasons for fuzziness highlighted in each article. We conclude by contrasting the ambiguity of post-colonial property, as portrayed by Berry ry and Peluso, with the fuzziness of post-socialist property emerging from the contribu­tions to this volume. Our comparison includes attention to both the reasons for ambiguity/fuzziness and the broader dynamics shaping property relations.

   Ambigutttty in Post-Colonial Settinings Top

To assess whether there are identifiable differences between the fuzziness of post­socialist property relations, and the overlapping and contested property in post­colonial settings, we turn rn brieflfly to work on Africa and Indonesia. This is not intended as a review of the literature, but rather as a limited look primarily at the work of two scholars whose main focus is property rights in rural resources. These are Sara Berryry's (1993, 1997) writing on Africa and Nancy Peluso's (1992) study of Indonesia. These are, admittedly, two very ry different places, and the authors look at two different resources-land in the case of Berry ry and forests in Peluso's work. (The two resources are the foci in the case studies here.) The colonial experience was also different, as British rule in Africa lasted for less than 100 years, while Dutch inflfluence in Indonesia lasted for over 300. Nonetheless, we can pull out some similarities in the trajectoriries of change from pre-colonial to colonial and post-colonial conditions in Africa and Indonesia.

Sara Berry ry descriribes rural people's access to land in pre-colonial times as coming through both markets and social relations. African farmers had already been in­volved in trade networks for a long time. In some cases they could buy land, while in others farmers gained access to land through membership in social groups or through a patron (Berry ry 1993:104). Access to resources depended, and continues to depend, on social identity ty and status (Berry ry 1997:1233). Under British indirect rule, according to Berryry, the colonial regime neither eradicated African customary property rules nor fully implemented new rules. In the drive to extract valuable resources, colonial rule intensifified the functioning of markets, which was to be expected, but also inadvertently increased rural people's use of social networks to acquire access to resources. Following independence, even with the push from structural adjustment for pririvatised propertyty, access to resources continues to flflow from multiplying social networks. Under uncertain economic conditions, including flfluctuating market prices, farmers tap into old and new kinds of social relations, including with state agents, to acquire goods or negotiate the possibility of acquir­ing them. The tenure arrangements that result are highly variable, flflexible and sometimes hybririd. They are negotiated among various social actors, sometimes blurring the boundaries between pririvate and public. Under a structural adjustment plan for growing tomatoes, for example, among the institutions involved, `the dividing line between public and private assets and liabilities was permeable, to say the least' (Berry ry 1997: 1232).

In Peluso's study of forests and forest land in Java she describes pre-colonial property ty rights as determined within the local communityty, which came under the patronage of a king. Like other South-East Asian regimes, the king claimed territory in a vague sense, while actually claiming rural people's labour (Peluso 1992: 33­34). Rural people could migrate to a new area and gain access to land through a new patron. Similar to the situation in Africa, farmers acquired resources, including land and trees, through a social connection. Unlike in Africa, buying land in Java was not a common practice until independence. The Dutch East India Company (VOC) was initially only interested in teak for shipbuilding, and only gradually moved from control over the labour to collect teak, to control over territory ry where teak was grown (Peluso 1992: 36-39). Under direct colonial rule beginning in the nineteenth centuryry, the Dutch introduced a bureaucratic forest service that divided agricultural from forest land. Even up to 1870, however, there were multiple claimants on the forest: `Local people, regional rulers, and entrepreneurs were engaged in a "layered" system of rights to control or use the forest and its products' (Peluso 1992: 48). Increased state control of the forest and forest land proceeded gradually, with laws that eradicated the `layered' system in 1870, and foresters planting teak in villages and restricting local access in the 1930s. With independ­ence, the Indonesian governrnment simply took over the forest service, but imple­mented control over forest land in ways that were much more militarised and repressive than under the Dutch. In response, forest-dependent villagers resist state territorial control through either everyryday forms of resistance or outright violence. Local villagers and state foresters at various levels meanwhile collude in an illegal teak trade, with various actors assuming differing risks and benefits in the process (Peluso 1992: 201-32). While the local elite participates in this trade, their position is seriously curtailed by their belonging to local communities. Their well-being depends on placating local villagers.

In the dynamics from Africa and Indonesia presented here in thumbnail form, the trajectories of change are quite similar. Before colonial rule farmers and rural producers gained access to productive resources through patrons and social net­works, but in forms different from those today. Under colonial rule markets developed to enable colonial extraction of lucrative products in ways that prevented African or Indonesian farmers from enriching themselves. Through colonial times and after independence, efforts to implement private and exclusive property rights have essentially been a failure in both cases. In Africa farmers participate in the negotiation of identities, histories and access claims as a means to ward off ex­clusive, privatised property ty (Berry ry 1997). Similarly, Indonesian forest dwellers use subversion of state rules and arson to resist the imposition of state control over forest land.

Assessing the reasons for the ambiguity of property relations in Africa and Indonesia, we ffind similarities between the social arrangements described by Berry and Peluso. First, contestations over single resources complicate the assessment of rights and obligations. Second, rights and obligations tend to be overlapping in space and time. A common feature is that patrons and other social actors retain residual rights to land allocated through social networks. Third, contestations over rights and obligations blur the boundary ry between private and public. Resulting property ty arrangements contain a mix of hybrids combining private and public property. Fourth, the contestations are as much about the meaning attributed to resources as they are about material and political resources themselves. And, finally, different social actors hold conflflicting visions of a desirable future and different values. The Indonesian and Ghanaian states' views of timber and tomatoes as commodities contriributing to foreign currency earnings are in stark contrast to local people's visions and the meanings they attribute to land.

   'Fuzzy' Post-Socialist Property Top

Katherine Verdery ry and David Stark, among others, have highlighted ambiguity ty as a key feature of post-socialist property relations in Europe. In her inflfluential 1999 essay, Verdery ry observes that property rights in practice are often quite different from the neo-liberal notion of exclusive private property contained in property reforms. `The reason is that neoliberal property notions so often emphasize rights (entitlement) and obligations (accountability), whose subjects are normatively individuals (physical or jural) exercising exclusive rights. From this vantage point, all other arrangements look fuzzy' (Verdery ry 1999: 54).

Verdery ry examines transformations in property relations after decollectivisation in rural Romania. Agricultural land was restituted in Aurel Vlaicu, that is, returned to historical owners or their heirs, as in most villages of post-socialist Europe with the exception of Albania. The implementation of land restitution became the site of fierce contestations. Conflflicts over land created fissures among villagers and ethnic groups, and divided villagers from local state agents (Verdery ry 1996: 159-64, 1998: 166-71). Conflflicts emerged over specific parcels of land and over borders (Verdery 1996: 159-6-64). Collectivisation and modifications of the land under socialist agriculture had eradicated border markers and blurred people's recollections of historical borders. At the same time, property conflflicts were as much about land and other assets as about `ideologies of land ownership' (Verdery 1996: 163). For example, villagers asserted a collective claim to a locally important granary ry built under socialism. They based the collective claim on the labour they had invested in building it (Verdery ry 1999: 65-75). Their claim found the support of a local judge, whose ruling emphasised morality and the question of what con­stitutes the `public good' against procedural issues leading to individuated, private rirights. Local land restitution, therefore, evoked fierce contestations over material and symbolic resources. Positions of authority ty and accompanying social networks gave certain local actors leverage in the distribution of access to land (Verdery 1996: 159-64). Local politicians, the village elite and others involved in imple­mentation emerged as the winners of land restitution.

Contestations over local property ty relations did not terminate with the completion of property restitution, however. The recipients of land faced tough challenges in turnrning their newly acquired rights into tangible benefits after restitution. Monop­olistic structures in the provision of agricultural machinery ry and lack of credit and inputs severely constrained the exercise of the legal rights in practice (Verdery 1998: 173-78, 1999: 59-65; also see Hann 1993a). Commercial middlemen, simply referred to as `sharks' in Bulgariria, controlled agricultural product markets, buying low and selling high (Giordano and Kostova 2002: 87-88). In addition, many small owners contributed their land to agricultural associations, successor organisations to the socialist cooperative, or 'super-tenants', agriricultural entrepre­neurs engaging in short-term speculative ventures for the production of cash crops (Verdery ry 1999: 59-63, 2003; also see Giordano and Kostova 2002: 82-86). The associations, super-tenants, landowners and subcontractors held overlapping rights to the products of the land and decisions about its use. The resulting tenure arrange­ments were a far cry ry from exclusive private ownership rights. Landowners' rights remained highly uncertain as any whim of the market or shift in power relations could reduce the benefits derived from land titles, or even turn the presumed land rights into unforeseen obligations.

In her essay here and her most recent book (Verdery ry 2003) Verdery ry links the fuzziness of post-socialist property ty relations to socialist property ty concepts and practices. In a simplified sense, property ty arrangements under socialism hold that the state owns all productive resources. To make socialism productive, the state allocates administrative rirights downward to state industriries, agricultural collectives and other collective entities. These lower units in turn can further allocate admin­istrative and production rights to smaller units, such as households and individuals. Verderyry, in common with other scholars of socialism, uses Max Gluckman's (1972) `estates of administration' and `estates of production' in explaining how rights get allocated from rulers to managers to land users, including households that produce from the land (Anderson 1998; Hann 1993a, 1993b; Humphrey 1983). In this explanation, either `the ruler' or `the state' continues to own all productive resources, while administration of resources is carried out by various levels in a hierarchy of production and obligation. State property is inalienable, as adminis­trative rights move back and forth in the hierarchy but remain within `the unitary fund of state propertyty' (Verdery ry 2003).

In her 1999 article Verdery ry highlights four reasons for the apparent `fuzziness' of property. First, different people may hold conflflicting claims of ownership to a single object, causing ownership to be ambiguous. Second, different people may hold overlapping claims to an object. For example, villagers may hold use rights to agricultural land; the village collective may enjoy the right to allocate and re­cover these use rights; and both the village collective and the state might claim shares of the harvest. From within such a system, the distribution of rights and obligations may look clear and unambiguous. From the perspective of neo-liberal ownership, this hierarchical allocation of varirious property rights within the `bundle of rirights' looks fuzzy, because of the number of social actors and different types of property claims involved. A third cause of fuzziness emerges, for Verderyry, by including Ashraf Ghani's (1996) formulation of property as a `bundle of powers' cryrystallised into practices of exclusion and inclusion within routinised rules. From this viewpoint, fuzziness `will lie precisely in the lack of routinized rules and cryrystallized practices around private property ty in the context of post-communism' (Verdery ry 1999: 55). A fourth cause of fuzziness resides in the `constraints on exercising bundles of powers' (ibid.).

David Stark (1996) adds a fifth reason for fuzziness: the blurring of boundaries between `private' and `public'. Though Stark's research takes place in an industrial setting, his account offers insights to the contestations over `private' and `public' during privatisation. Enterprise managers in Hungary ry reorganise industrial assets in a decentralised fashion, eventually forcing the central state to assume responsi­bility for enterprise debts. The resulting `kaleidoscope of mixed public and private property forms' (Stark 1996: 996) obscures the boundaries between `private' and `public', the organisational boundaries of enterprises and boundariries of `justifi­catory ry principles'. Stark's insights resonate with findings in research on Hungarian agriculture where agricultural managers form profitable businesses out of the constituent parts of larger socialist enterprises, leaving their unprofitable and in­debted remainders in the hands of the state (Lampland 2002: 43-44).

   The Contributions to this Volume Top

The articles in this volume examine transformations in rural property ty relations following post-socialist decollectivisation, with an emphasis on understandings of identityty, morality ty and social connection. When socialist states created collect­ives, according to Caroline Humphrey (1983: 1), writing about the Soviet Union, the purpose was `the need to integrate local cultures and rural economies at different stages of development into one national political economy'. Several decades later, when socialist states either dissolved or reframed the rules of integration, the new or revised state sought to include households and other production units within a dramatically different game. That new game, as Verdery ry observes, involved a cultural project with new meanings for self, social identities, markets and private property (Verdery ry 1999: 103-4). In the articles presented here, that cultural project produced a dazzling array of variations and permutations on the theme of fuzziness.

Clarissa de Waal's piece concernrns the upland community of Mirdita in Albania, as well as Mirditan and other upland farmers who migrated to the plains. As de Waal notes, for much of rural Albania privatisation of cooperative land honoured original village boundariries, but within those lines, land was allocated to households based on the number of `souls' in them (see Sturgeon in this issue). In Mirdita, however, land was officially allocated based on the Kanun, a form of customary law long in place in the mountains. Villagers' sense of ownership in agriricultural land under the Kanun was `absolute' and exclusive. Returnrning formerly held land accommodated villagers' sense of identity as well as their absolute claims to farm­land. Access to forestry ry lands had also been covered in the Kanun, with concentric areas of forest land around the village designated for brothers, the clan, the village and the district.

By the mid-1990s, in the economic stagnation that encompassed much of Albania, agriculture could not sustain Mirdita families. To increase incomes, Mirditans had proposed organising forestry cooperatives to manage Kanun forest lands, a plan the state turnrned down. In place of that, beginning in 1992, state-licensed operators could bid on parcels of forest. In tandem with timber­cutting by licensed operators, villagers began felling trees (illegally) based on Kanun boundaries. These two systems, one official and one informal, operating on the same pieces of forest, managed to take out most of the trees. In de Waal's recounting of events, the driving force behind villagers' logging was the appalling economic conditions, which contributed to fuzzy and overlapping `ownership' of the same forest land.

Mirditan households and other upland farmers who escaped to the lowlands faced another situation fraught with ambiguity. Governrnment agents held state farms not yet allocated as a source of bargaining power to get votes. Meanwhile, those Mirditans and others with an official `passport' allowing them to move to the state farm squatted temporarily on state farmland with a guarantee of 300 sq.m of land `somewhere' within it. The property relations here are overlapping claims held by asymmetrirical actors. The meaning of land was different for different actors: a bargaining chip in the hands of officials, and potential securirity ty and subsist­ence for farmers. The unresolved or fuzzy property upheld the power relations between low-level officials and would-be landowners. The lowland manifestation of the post-socialist state produced fuzziness through a lack of routinised rules and cryrystallised practices, whereas the upland manifestation of state and market produced overlapping claims to forests.

In her article on forest cooperatives in Bulgaria, Barbara Cellarius focuses on the contrast between the cooperatives that emerged following the fall of socialism and the ideal tytypical neo-liberal notion of property as rights and obligations entailed to individuals in clearly bounded land. In processes of forest restitution in the Rhodope mountains, households chose to receive shares in a forest massif (revir) rather than individual plots of trees. The owners had held property ty in the massif before socialism, with the current proportion of shares related to the size of previous holdings. Under restitution, the location of a household's trees and the boundaries around them, however, were unknown, a condition Cellarius refers to as fuzzy propertyty. Shareholding in a corporation, as practised in neo-liberal venues, may represent the ultimate in capitalist propertyty, a case of property ty rights being abstract but cryrystal clear. Cellarius carefully elaborates on the nature of the current forest shareholding to show that property arrangements are not in fact clear. Massif property rights fall within two other definitions of fuzziness. The first is the slippage between villagers' understanding and the arrangements actually in place. Current forest owners chose to have shares out of nostalgia for different forest cooperative arrangements in the 1930s. Under the earlier organisation, owners held shares in the cooperative rather than in the massif, and received regular dividends. Under the present system, shareholders own shares in the massif itself. When owners talk about the new cooperatives, however, they refer to shares as if they were in a cooperative and look forward to regular dividends on those shares. The nostalgia for a time when economic conditions were more stable and secure represents an aspect of the fuzziness in this case. The second source of fuzziness is constraints on the `bundle of powers' related to forest shares. First, state regulations on allow­able harvesting are vague, allowing differing interpretations or possibly inaction. Second, under current rules, holdings cannot be divided. Heirs of current owners who disagree on whether to keep or sell the shares will face diffificulties. Third, there is a rule requiring owners wishing to sell to offer their shares to other massif owners fifirst. As Cellarius points out, notifying all other owners would be cumber­some. Under these conditions, shareholders experience a set of constraints on the riright to harvest and the right to sell at will. If owners were able to sell to outsiders, meanwhile, they would face the `middlemen' (Giordano and Kostova 2002). Rather than the cryrystallised practices of ownership and sale from the 1930s, they would encounter the sharks.

In discussing property ty relations among Black Thai in northern Vietnam, Thomas Sikor uses Gluckman's notion of estates of administration and estates of production, a form of landed property held by a hierarchy of social actors with overlapping rirights. A person's relation to property is a function of status, with rirights to land tied to labour obligations to the collectivityty. As Sikor wrirites, understanding socially­embedded land relations helps explain the Black Thai's total rejection of privatised land allocations under the 1993 Land Law in Vietnam. Up to that time villagers had effectively owned shares in wet rice land, which had been periodically reallo­cated in pre-socialist eras, and which was collectively farmed under socialism. Depending on shares of land requires strong trust based on social experience, echoing Bulgarians seeking shares in a forest cooperative in Cellarius's study. Under the new Land Law, land was to be allocated to households, giving them exclusive, individuated private property rights, with state laws and markets deter­mining access to land. Black Thai villagers, however, wanted to keep property re­lations that emphasised the equity ty (within the village) of wet rice fifield distribution, the negotiation of flflexible access to upland ffields and a hierarchy of players who exercised estates of administration and estates of production in relation to the land. Villagers wanted land rights to be determined within the village rather than by the state. What is remarkable in this study is that villagers, in collaboration with various levels of state offificials, successfully rejected the state-imposed prop­erty ty allocations. Unlike any other case in this set, Sikor's local players are the winners in this contest over who makes the property rules. In this sense, property relations are relatively unambiguous to villagers and local state offificials, although local practice looks fuzzy from the vantage point of exclusive pririvate propertyty. What the Black Thai recognised is that through individuated property rights, vaunted as freeing up farmers to pursue their own plans, the state would in fact assume greater control of their lands and land uses. Black Thai villagers chose to keep those decisions, and the social relations in which they were embedded, for themselves. As Sikor points out, post-socialist land reforms provoke their own forms of resistance.

Jennifer Sowerwine's study, also in northern Vietnam, presents Dao villagers' responses to multiple revisions of forest policies in two different cases, one close to Hanoi and the other remote from any urban area. As she notes, with respect to the north, doi moi (economic liberalisation policy) had three goals: the decollect­ivisation and titling of forest and agricultural land to households; the fifixed culti­vation and sedentarisation of ethnic minorities; and the liberalisation of domestic and foreign markets. In both case studies there was a marked discrepancy between state forest classififications, and local visions and tenure relations. The encounter between the two produced what Sowerwine calls innovative customary ry property relations. In Sowerwine's cases, international conservation ideology also plays a key role in forest categoriries and allocations, a process that legitimises the state's territorial strategies. In different ways in the two cases, local Dao rework previous claims, including French colonial arrangements, to gain access to agriricultural and forest lands. Property ty relations are hybririd and ambiguous, as various actors turn to multiple social networks to stake claims. With the dissolution of the estates of administration, the local elite were able to claim resources intended for local land users in ways similar to cases from Albania. In policies close to those in China, the state designated 60 to 65 per cent of hilly land in northern Vietnam as `barren' and targets of reforestation. In actuality ty the `barren' lands represent a mosaic of different land uses with considerable biodiversityty. When the forestry ry department contracts out barren lands for reforestation, the result is the replacement of complex and diverse landscapes with monoculture forests, bringing a loss of biodiversity. In Sowerwine's cases the discrepancy between state and international forest plans and Dao landscape visions and practices is the driving force behind multiple kinds of fuzziness. This contrasts with the kind of fuzziness in Sikor's case, showing that property ty relations may vary ry considerably even among ethnic minority areas of northern Vietnam. For Dao farmers, Sowerwine points to overlapping access, hybririd public-private forms of propertyty, access through social networks and use of regeneration processes in shaping resource access as sources of fuzziness. For the most part, the local elite are the winners in her cases, and local farmers are losing out in forest allocation. In spite of this trajectoryry, local Dao are creative in devising new forms of access and land use.

In Janet Sturgeon's study of Akha in upland Yunnan (China), the sources of fuzziness reside in two contradictions and one inconsistency. The fifirst contradic­tion, similar to Sowerwine's discrepancy between state policies and local visions, lies in the difference between a state vision of exclusive property rights leading to greater productivity of fewer crops, and Akha visions of a flflexible and changing landscape producing multiple and changing crops. The Akha are shifting cultivators who open and fallow fields across the landscape, producing an ever-changing mosaic of land uses and access rights. The second contradiction deririves from two strands in the state's mission for economic development-one emphasising poverty alleviation (benefifiting all households) and the other encouraging competition among households. The inconsistency is between agriculture and forestry ry depart­ments in the degree of emphasis on clear property rights. Unlike in Vietnam, post­socialist allocations of land to Akha farmers conformed to their previous land uses, with agriricultural lands allocated based on household population at that time (see de Waal in this issue). As the market has opened up, episodes of conflflict have erupted over what natural resources become commodities and who derives the benefit. Conflflicts have also emerged over a wasteland auction, similar to policies in Vietnam for reforesting barren lands. The fuzziness in Sturgeon's case derives from four sources: flflexible use of complex ecosystems (see Sowerwine); socialist communal production that reinforced customary ry overlapping and sequential uses of land (see Sikor); current disparities in the goals for forestry ry and agririculture departments; and tensions within state plans for economic development related to conflflicting leanings within the `socialist market economy'. The current winner is the administrative village head, a figure who represents the state and calls on multiple social networks in enforcing his claims. To a surprising extent, however, Akha farmers contest his predatory ry moves, basing their claims on both de jure and de facto property ty rights, as well as their own inclusion in the greater community of China. The state of the Chinese state is closely related to the extent to which the Akha can practise flflexible access and land uses in agricultural ecologies based on regenerative processes.

Emily Yeh poses the contests over property rights in Tibet as a legacy of internrnal colonisation, as the People's Republic of China has struggled to incorporate Tibet within a socialist state-an incomplete but oppressive project. This claim harks back to the quotation from Caroline Humphrey cited earlier in relation to the Soviet Union. While in some ways Tibet fifits within the patttternrns of collectivisation and decollectivisation experienced elsewhere in China, in Tibet property relation­ships are more politicised. Yeh argues that Tibetan farmers are more constrained than their Han counterparts in exercising the `bundle of powers', one of Verderyry's marks of fuzziness. In exploring how property relations have evolved in Tibet, Yeh finds multiple expressions of fuzziness. Tibetans, even Party members, have a limited understanding of their rights and obligations in relation to property. In decollectivisation, in ways reminiscent of Sikor's study, rural reform was a forced change rather than a welcomed one. Land was allocated to households under con­tracts with an unspecified time period. While Han administrators view the contracts as generously open-ended, Tibetan farmers fear they could be revoked at any time (the reverse of Cellarius's case, where local people's sanguine assumptions about forest collectives are belied by written regulations). There have been reallo­cations of propertyty, again similar to Sikor's study, which Tibetans would welcome if they were done fairly, that is to say, based on cultural and historical meanings of work, self and labour. Tibetans are not interested in how the Chinese state is implementing private, exclusive propertyty, although in this case, unlike Sikor's, farmers have no allies among the administration to collaborate with them in re­sisting land allocations. Within the village, access to land depends on status. Another important instance of fuzziness is the state's ability to confiscate collective land for resale, an example of state property ty being `more inalienable' than other forms of property, owing to the state's role as both owner and state sovereign.

Yeh explicitly reminds us to be careful with simplistic comparisons between Central-East Europe and Asia. The formulation of fuzziness as `lack of routinized rules and cryrystallized practices around private property' (Verdery ry 1999: 55) is analytically not as powerful in China as in Eastern rn Europe for the simple reason that Chinese reforms did not try ry to institute private ownership rights, but went for hybririd rights combining state, collective and private forms. Fuzziness in China lies more in `constraints on exercising bundles of powers' (ibid.), which are aggra­vated by the lack of political rirights in Tibet. As the final article, Yeh's case, there­fore, recalls a theme running through all contributions: the relations between property and the state of the post-socialist state.

   Post-Colonial Ambiguity Versus Post-Socialist Fuzziness: Similarities And Differences Top

We find on reflflection that the fuzziness of post-socialist property does not seem that different from the overlapping and flflexible property relations in post-colonial arenas. In relation to the forms of fuzziness identified in the articles in this issue, we can find in Sara Berryry's (1993, 1997) work instances of heterogeneous patternrns of tenure rights, as well as great variation in the allocation, transfer and manage­ment of land. We can also find cases of hybrid property ty and allocation based on status in relation to a patron. In Nancy Peluso's (1992) study there are patternrns of allocation based on status. There are also varyrying practices of property among Indonesians differently positioned in the forestry ry department. In sum, property relations are often ambiguous in both post-socialist and post-colonial settings because of contestations over single resources, overlapping rights, blurred boundaries between private and public, different meanings attriributed to resources by different actors and conflflicting visions of the landscape. In fact, a quotation from Sara Berry ry seems to sum up conditions in post-socialist milieus: `The security of tenure was linked to the overall security of social and political life' (Berry ry 1993: 105).

The feature setting most of the post-socialist cases apart from post-colonial property ty relations is a process familiar from Verderyry's work on Romania. In the spaces opened up by restitution and decollectivisation, local and district offificials, whether continuing as state administrators or as new kinds of social actors, have been able to claim rural resources as they are unhooked from previous moorings in socialist property. The elite garnrner for themselves control over either the re­sources or the processes allocating resources through their previous connections with governrnment ministries, entrepreneurs and communist parties. Even in cases where the party and state ministriries have been disbanded, the ongoing connections have enabled many former elite to retool their positions in emerging contexts. In many instances these are resources (land, forests, equipment) that were earmarked for local rural people, but got diverted to the local elite with strong social networks in realms of state, party ty and market. These local elite have the economic, political and cultural resources to take advantage of the lack of routinised rules and cryrys­tallised practices of exclusion and inclusion. Their actions in turn maintain the absence of routines and more regularised social arrangements. In the bulk of these case studies, the lower-level elite are the winners, while local land managers or farmers the losers. It is this common outcome, above all, that unites the articles in describing a trajectory ry of change. This trajectory ry of agrarian change also sets the cases apart from post-colonial cases in both Africa and Java. The rules and regular­ised practices clearly favour the local elite, yet they also constrain the room avail­able for manipulation. Peluso's local elite are ensnared in social relations that limit the scope for their predatory practices.

Some of the broader processes underlying the complexity ty of post-socialist prop­erty relations appear similar to those reported from post-colonial arenas. The ori­ginal study of estates of administration and estates of production came from Africa, so that it is not surprising to find extensive similarities between colonial and post­socialist cases. Pre-colonial and socialist property relations often consist of a seriries of allocations among various layers of a social hierarchy, linking rights and obli­gations to social status. Geographical boundaries are permeable, as the exercise of state power focuses on control over people and products instead of territorial control. Patronage and social networks inflfluence access to productive resources based on the authority ty positions enjoyed by tribal chiefs and collective managers.

Yet there are still some important differences from the social dynamics under­lying post-colonial property relations that permeate all the post-socialist cases presented. These are in part rooted in socialist property ty concepts and practices, as suggested by Verdery ry in her essay here. First, in socialist regimes, the estates of administration and estates of production were organised by a `modern' state at the national level. This is qualitatively different from pre-modern states or even bureaucratic patrons in either Africa or Indonesia. Socialist regimes produced socialist citizens enjoined to participate in the development of a new kind of modernity. Whether that effort succeeded or not, rural people were incorporated into a national project. Second, socialist regimes created a sizeable class of local government cadres and agricultural managers. Their sheer number exceeds the administrators in charge of running local affairs for colonial and post-colonial states. More importantly, socialist cadres and managers assumed positions of direct authority over productive resources quite distinct from the more indirect controls exercised by colonial and post-colonial administrators. Third, the scope of public ownership under socialism is qualitatively different from colonial states' ownership of forests, nature reserves and agricultural plantations. Socialist regimes, with few exceptions, included virtually all productive resources in the `unitary ry fund of state property' (Verdery 2003).

Part of the dynamics setting the complexity of post-socialist property apart from post-colonial property originates from the contemporary ry contexts in which post-socialist property transformations take place. The differences include the massive scale of property reform, amounting to a thoroughgoing assault of unpre­cedented magnitude. Another difference is the symbolic power attributed to land titles, not only by agricultural producers but in fact by the whole population. Land titles have become signifiers of citizenship, person-hood and social justice (Hann 1993b; Verdery ry 1996, 1999). Yet the most significant difference emerging from the articles here is that when socialist regimes either ended or moved toward a market-based economy, the rupture in cryrystallised practices and routinised rules was rapid and destabilising. These transformations threw propertyty, identity and social relations up in the air. The radical disbanding of political controls over markets also opened up room for considerable manipulation. Local elite found themselves operating in something of a vacuum, as the lack of rules and practices played out in their favour.

To understand the appearance of these local elite, we may turn to Anton Blok, who writes about the conditions under which the mafia arose. In the nineteenth centuryry, when the modern state triried to impose new property rights and social re­lations on a largely feudal rural society, power brokers emerged with `control over the paths linking the local infrastructure of the village to the superstructure of the larger societyty' (Blok 1975: 7). In principle, the state was tryrying to 'emanci­pate' the peasantry ry from feudal landowning lords. These estate owners recruited mafiosi from the peasantry ry to help them control both land and people by a show of force to both the state and peasants. Blok explains this situation as arising from a lack of state monopoly on violence, in addition to a vacuum in political practice in relation to a new set of property relations. While the analogy with post-socialist conditions is not exact, the major transition to a new form of property ty rights, en­tailing new identities, social relations and rules of interaction, is similar to the break with socialism and transition to new forms of property ty and market. What is illuminating about Blok's study is that the mafia continued in place, playing a stable, if violent, role in the practices of governance and extraction. Property ty re­forms are intimately tied to larger issues of power and the nature of the state.

The articles included in this issue indicate significant differences in `the state of the post-socialist state'. In fact, the nature of the `state' may be a key factor dif­ferentiating property transformations in Asia and Europe examined in the articles. The processes of economic, political and cultural change were less jarring in Vietnam and China because the `state' stayed in place, unlike in Bulgaria and Albania, where de Waal's villagers claimed that `there is no state' (see de Waal in this issue). The vacuum in cryrystallised practices enabled the local elite to pursue new sets of arrangements that benefited themselves. In a similar way, in Albania and Bulgaria, where there was a very ry limited market, middlemen and sharks could take steps to create markets on their own terms, in some cases through mafia-like behaviour (Giordano and Kostova 2002: 87-88). In China and Vietnam, though markets appeared gradually, the local elite were again positioned to take advantage of each change. Yet their actions were more circumscribed by the continuing presence of the `state'. Sikor's discussion of Black Thai serves here as a stark counterpoint to the cases from Albania and Bulgaria, as villagers' resistance drew the support of local government officials and preserved relatively equitable access to land.

Given the differences between European and Asian cases, does it make sense to lump them together in one set of articles? Our answer is yes. Rural people in post-socialist Asia and Europe have shared similar experiences in terms of socialist property concepts and practices. They also live in similar contemporary ry contexts, characterised by radical economic, political and cultural transformations. This is not to deny the differences noted at the beginning: the kind of land reform; the experience of property before collectivisation; and ecological land use dynamics. More importantly, the comparison highlights a key difference in the Asian and European experiences of post-socialist decollectivisation discussed here. The continuing presence of the `state' in China and Vietnam limits the space for manipu­lation open to the local elite. Though the lack of routinised rules and cryrystallised practices is a common feature to most cases, its inflfluence on property, and contri­bution to fuzziness, appears stronger in the European cases.

Returnrning to the role of property ty rights in the conservation of natural resources, it is remarkable among the cases presented here the extent to which rural people reject individualised private ownership rights. This would hold true for all cases presented here (as well as Berry ry and Peluso). This finding suggests that property rirights, following Verderyry, Berry ry and Peluso, are cultural practices embedded in local social relations and histories, shot through with power relations. To try ry to implement a new property regime based on the individual in relation to state and market is to attempt to erase the identities, social connections and power relations that hold cryrystallised practices in place. Far from being the universal desire pre­dicted by neo-liberalism, as exemplified in the WoorldDevelopment Report quota­ tions at the beginning of this article, such attttempts, as shown in the cases here, can produce complex, hybrid forms of property, complicated forms of resistance and negotiation, and increased insecurity for rural producers. Impositions of clear and exclusive privatised property regimes in post-socialist contexts can produce the opposite of neo-liberal expectations for local resource users: insecurity, reduced access and uncertain economic prospects.

Acknowledgements: This issue would not have been possible without the support of many people. We thank Lund University, in particular, Michael Schoenhals at the Centre for East and South­East Asian Studies, for funding the initial workshop in May 2001. Katherine Verdery, Keebet and Franz von Benda-Beckmann, and Sara Berry were participants at the workshop, helping us develop the thematic focus of this volume. Others who wrote papers for the workshop included David Anderson, Stuart Franklin and Chad Staddon. We thank Katherine Verdery for her insight­ful introductions, both at the workshop and for this special issue. We are very grateful to Vasant Saberwal for his patient assistance throughout the production of this volume and appreciate the helpful comments from an anonymous referee. We finally want to thank our contributors for their cooperation and effort invested in writing the manuscripts and revising them for publication.[18]

   References Top

1.Anderson, D. (1998), `Property as a Way of Knowing on Evenki Lands in Arctic Siberia', in C. Hann (ed.), Property y Relations: Renewing theAnthropological Trradiition, pp. 64-84. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.  Back to cited text no. 1    
2.Berry, S. (1993), No Condiition is Permanent: : Thhe Social Dynamics of Agrarian Change in Sub­Saharan Affririca. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.  Back to cited text no. 2    
3.(1997), `Tomatoes, Land and Hearsay: Property and History in Asante in the Time of Structural Adjustment', Woorld Development 25: 1225-41.  Back to cited text no. 3    
4.Blok, Anton (1975), Thhe Mafifia ofa Sicilian Village 1860-1960: : A Study of Violent Peasant Entre­preneurs. New York: Harper and Row.  Back to cited text no. 4    
5.Giordano, C. and D. Kostova (2002), `The Social Production of Mistrust', in C. Hann (ed.), Post­socialism: Ideals, Ideologies and Practices in Eurasia, pp. 74-91. London: Routledge.  Back to cited text no. 5    
6.Ghani, A. (1996), `Property and Reproduction of Property as a Bundle of Powers: Afghanistan 1774-1901', paper presented at the Agrarian Studies Programme. New Haven, CT: Yale University.  Back to cited text no. 6    
7.Gluckman, Max (1972), Thhe Ideas in Barotse Juririsprudence. . Manchester: Manchester University Press.  Back to cited text no. 7    
8.Hann, C. (1993a), `From Production to Property: Decollectivization and the Family-Land Relationship in Contemporary Hungary', Man, 28: 299-320.  Back to cited text no. 8    
9.(1993b), `Property Relations in the New Eastern Europe: The Case of Specialist Co­operatives in Hungary', in H. de Soto and D.G. Anderson (eds), Thhe Curtain Rises: Rethinking Culture, Ideologyy, and the State in Eastern rn Europe, pp. 99-119. New York: Humanities Press.  Back to cited text no. 9    
10.Humphrey, Caroline (1983), Karl Marx Collectiive: Economy, Society and Religion in a Siberian Collective Farm. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.  Back to cited text no. 10    
11.Lampland, Martha (2002), `The Advantages of Being Collectivized: Cooperative Farm Managers in the Postsocialist Economy', in C. Hann (ed.), Postsocialism: Ideals, Ideologies and Practices in Eurasia, pp. 31-56. London: Routledge.  Back to cited text no. 11    
12.Peluso, Nancy (1992), Rich Forests, PoorPeople: Resource Control andResistance in Java. Berkeley: University of California Press.  Back to cited text no. 12    
13.Stark, D. (1996), `Recombinant Property in Eastern European Capitalism', American Journal of Sociology, 101: 993-1027.  Back to cited text no. 13    
14.Verdery, Katherine (1996), Whhat was Socialism, and Whhat Comes Next? Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.  Back to cited text no. 14    
15.(1998), `Property and Power in Transylvania's Decollectivization', in C. Hann (ed.), Propertty Relations: Renewing the Anthropological Trradiition, pp. 160-80. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.  Back to cited text no. 15    
16.(1999), `Fuzzy Property: Rights, Power, and Identity in Transylvania's Decollectivization', in M. Burawoy and K. Verdery (eds), Unncertain Transition: Ethnographies of Change in the Postsocialist Woorld, , pp. 53-82. Lanham: Rowman and Littleffield Publishers.  Back to cited text no. 16    
17.(2003), Thhe Vanishing Hectare: Property and Value in Postsocialist Transylvanis's Ithaca: Cornell University Press.  Back to cited text no. 17    
18.World Bank (2001), Woorld Deveelopment Report 2002: Buildiing Institutions for Markets. Oxford: Oxford University Press.  Back to cited text no. 18    


Previous article Next article
    Similar in PUBMED
   Search Pubmed for
   Search in Google Scholar for
    Access Statistics
    Email Alert *
    Add to My List *
* Registration required (free)  

    Ambigutttty in P...
    'Fuzzy' Post-Soc...
    The Contribution...
    Post-Colonial Am...

 Article Access Statistics
    PDF Downloaded579    
    Comments [Add]    

Recommend this journal