The Right to Speculate: Entangling Chinese Capital with Peri-urban Land Politics in Vientiane Laos

Authors: Wanjing Chen*, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Topics: Urban Geography, Economic Geography, China
Keywords: agrarian urbanism, political hydrology, frontier city, peri-urbanization, Global China, Southeast Asia
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/10/2020
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:15 AM
Room: Plaza Ballroom E, Sheraton, Concourse Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper addresses the co-production of peri-urban space and subject in the rapidly urbanizing agrarian frontier of Vientiane Laos. It follows a group of farmers on the edge of the city, whose agricultural livelihood was damaged as the development of a mega Chinese real estate project in the area significantly altered the irrigation conditions of their rice paddies. I unpack their improvisational strategies to rebuild livelihood by selling their farm land at inflated prices to inexperienced Chinese investors. In contrast to stereotype of static, agriculture-oriented farmers in global south, these individuals embody an in-between subjectivity that is constantly evaluating and comparing the use value and exchange value of farmland. I contend that peri-urban spatiality is crucial to the formation of such subject. Its intermediate physicality between rural and urban, as well as potential for large rent gap are crucial in the processes of subject formation. These subjects in return, reshape Vientiane’s edge into a zone characterized by mixed and fragmented land use. In addition, the paper highlights an unexpected struggle that is central to everyday land politics on the outskirt of the city—the struggle for the right to speculate. Farmers, banned by a variety of state policies to liquidate land, explicitly place freedom to commodify their property into their political pursuits. The phenomenon warrants attention to the limitations of anti-dispossession agendas that dominate advocacies and activisms for agrarian communities in global south.

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