Revista Estudios Socio-Jurídicos (2020-07-01)

Expropriations of Private Property for Economic ‘Development’ in the United States: Re-Thinking the Titling and Rule of Law Solutions to Land Grabs in the Global South

  • Frances Thomson

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 22, no. 2


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Mainstream discourses tend to treat land dispossession as a ‘developing’ country problem that arises due to weak/corrupt legal systems and inadequate property institutions. This article unsettles such discourses by examining expropriations for economic ‘development’ in the United States —a country typically deemed to have strong property institutions and a strong rule of law. Drawing on various examples, I propose that expropriation in the us is neither rigorously conditional nor particularly exceptional. While most ‘takings’ laws are supposed to restrict the State’s power, this restriction hinges on the definition of public use, purpose, necessity, or interest. And in many countries, including the us, these concepts are now defined broadly and vaguely so as to include private for-profit projects. Ultimately, the contents, interpretation, and application of the law are subject to social and political struggles; this point is habitually overlooked in the rule of law ‘solutions’ to land grabbing—. For these reasons, titling/registration programs and policies aimed at strengthening the rule of law, even if successful, are likely to transform rather than ‘solve’ dispossession in the global South.