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Shifting property claims in commercialisation of rural land in North India

Tom Cowan shows how digitized survey techniques serve powerful social and bureaucratic processes

Shifting property claims in commercialisation of rural land in North India

New research by Dr Tom Cowan (UCL Geography), published in the International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, examines how shifting social and bureaucratic processes affect the establishment of digitized private property titles on India's rural-urban frontier.

Ethnographic inquiries among cadastral land surveyors and revenue bureaucrats in Gurgaon, North India, show that digital technologies, intended to favour clarity, are being employed by powerful groups to settle property claims and structure the commercialisation of rural land.

The territorial claims of competing actors are manipulated to support conflicting documentations, engage bureaucratic processes and incorporate unmapped property. Rather than producing clarity, digital systems of property governance thus still reflect prevailing conditions of uncertainty.

Modern digitized property systems, faced with such shifting materiality and conflicting representations of land, remain materially bound and are always socially mediated, contested and secured.

See: Cowan, Thomas (2021) Uncertain grounds: cartographic negotiation and digitized property on the urban frontier, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1468-2427.13016


Image

DGPS cadastral survey near Nawada Fatehpur village, Gurugram, India. © Thomas Cowan, 2019


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