Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2023-2024

Module GEOG30E7: Understanding Land Conflicts

Department: Geography

GEOG30E7: Understanding Land Conflicts

Type Open Level 3 Credits 10 Availability Available in 2023/24 Module Cap None. Location Durham


  • Any Level 2 BA Geography Module


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • Develop an understanding of the distinct theoretical and conceptual lenses through which struggles over land have been understood in geography and related disciplines
  • Through concrete case studies, gain an appreciation of the role of land conflicts within processes of social, political and environmental change
  • Develop an understanding of how colonial histories of dispossession shape the dynamics of contemporary struggles over land in settler and postcolonial contexts
  • Develop an understanding of how global processes of capitalist accumulation shape contemporary land conflicts and how land is assembled as a resource for global investment
  • Gain appreciation of the diverse meanings, affordances, ontologies and practices of land proposed by a variety of social actors in the Global North and South
  • Gain familiarity with key concepts in agrarian political economy, postcolonial and settler colonial studies, and critical legal geography, and how they can be applied to specific land conflicts


  • Throughout the world, societies are shaped by struggles over the control of, access to and use of land. Land conflicts are not just about who owns land but raise deeper questions about what land is. Different actors may view land as a commodity to be bought and sold, as private property, as a source of livelihood, as an ancestral territory, or as an assemblage of more-than-human relations constituting a unique life-world.
  • For most of the world’s inhabitants, struggles around land are intimately connected to histories of colonial dispossession, which inform both unequal geographies of land control and ideas about what land is for and who has rights to it. Contemporary processes of capitalist accumulation produce new kinds of land conflicts – from large-scale “land grabs”, to everyday forms of enclosure, to the appropriation of land for energy development. Meanwhile, global concerns around climate change and biodiversity loss – combined with local processes of “counter-mapping” – are fueling efforts to promote indigenous and community land rights. Beyond these broader trends, understanding land conflicts involves attention to how ordinary people make claims to land, in ways that mobilise diverse understandings of rights and citizenship.
  • In this module, concrete case studies of land conflicts will be used to explore a variety of conceptual and theoretical approaches from agrarian political economy, critical legal geography, and postcolonial and settler colonial studies. Concepts explored may include: inscription devices, racial regimes of ownership, ideologies of improvement, enclosure and dispossession, frontiers and territorialisation, land grabbing, and competing ontologies of land.
  • Key questions we will ask include:
  • How do legacies of colonialism shape contemporary land conflicts?
  • How do processes of capitalist accumulation shape the dynamics of land conflicts?
  • What role does land play in decolonisation?
  • What distinct ontologies of land are proposed and practised by different social actors?
  • How do land conflicts reflect and shape broader struggles over citizenship and state-formation?

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • On successful completion of this module, students will be able to
  • Understand some of the key drivers and dynamics of contemporary land conflicts in the Global North and South
  • Understand a range of interdisciplinary conceptual and theoretical perspectives around land and be able to apply these to specific examples of land conflict
  • Demonstrate knowledge of the growing literature on land within geography and related disciplines
Subject-specific Skills:
  • On successful completion of the module students will be able to:
  • Think critically about land from multiple theoretical and cultural perspectives
  • Apply theoretical concepts around land to complex real-life case studies
  • Identify ways in which an interdisciplinary approach to the topic may yield fresh insights
Key Skills:
  • On successful completion of the module students will be able to:
  • Demonstrate written communication skills
  • Demonstrate a capacity to reflect critically and creatively on the relations between concepts and a range of real world problems and issues
  • Demonstrate the ability to synthesise texts and articulate ideas through class discussion

Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

  • Teaching will be delivered via Thematic Workshops , which will use a “flipped classroom” method comprising:
  • Small group discussion of key readings. Instructions for preparation will be provided and will include writing a response to key readings on your personal Land Blog (see Summative assessment)
  • Interactive lectures, which will combine lecturer feedback on group comments and questions with mini-lectures on key concepts, debates and examples with interactive class discussion, building on the group work
  • Summative assessment: Land Journal (100%). In preparation for each Thematic Workshop, students will write a short response (up to 250 words) in their personal Land Journal responding to the readings. After each Workshop, students will write another paragraph (up to 250 words) on how their ideas changed. A completed Land Journal will consist of 7 x 500 word entries (2 x 250 words per workshop). Total approx. 3500 words (max 8.5 A4 pages).

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Thematic workshops 7 Approx weekly 2 hours 14
Preparation and reading 86
Total 100

Summative Assessment

Component: Land Journal Component Weighting: 100%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Land Journal 7 x 500 words 100%

Formative Assessment:

Formative feedback provided in workshops.

Attendance at all activities marked with this symbol will be monitored. Students who fail to attend these activities, or to complete the summative or formative assessment specified above, will be subject to the procedures defined in the University's General Regulation V, and may be required to leave the University