“Grappling with global land administration’s technologies: From the ‘stuff of bits’ to sites of jurisdictional encounter”


  • Ani Landau-Ward RMIT Dept Sustainability and Urban Planning




Rapid technological advancements have occurred in the capacity to collect, store, and map information regarding land, use, ownership, and other land relations.  Spatial Data Infrastructures, and Geographic Information Systems have been constructed that record, sort, and store multiple forms of land and property data in complex, and often privately owned or managed systems.  These are made increasingly interoperable with land law and governance as Land Administration Systems (LAS). Which have become established as a crucial ‘public good infrastructure,’ and as a key component of economic and social development, and sustainability. Multiple international standards, regulatory instruments, normative agendas, and multilateral agreements have been created to foster their development, standardise their construction, and foster legibility across and within borders. Local land and real property law converge with these ever more sophisticated cartographic and administrative technologies, and in turn, with the aspirational, and regulatory, domains of the international.

Spatial conflicts, land scarcity, housing insecurity, have all also become increasingly foregrounded from the local to the global.  From states securing food bowls across borders, to tokenised interests in real property in material, virtual, and even interstellar worlds. The boundaries between law, technology, and political economy have become deeply blurred as value is created and extracted through digitalised systems of interest and analysis in land, and property data, that cross borders, span domains, and bring more phenomena into markets.  The politics of ordering and apportioning the spatial, is increasingly caught up in complex webs of finance, culture, and technology.  However, the construction of land administration, and information, systems is generally presented as a technical endeavour, concerned simply with identifying, mapping, and recording, a material world whose politics is negotiated elsewhere, in the community, the state, the courthouse, the market. Of creating the artefacts, instruments, databases, and technologies, that provide a foundation from which the politics, and law of land, might be constructed. A basis from which to build the institutional, economic, social, articulation of land politics in the contemporary world.

This often embeds a highly proprietary approach to land, and to land politics, as foundational. Bringing much of the world, and land into possessory view. However, while the foundational (and highly elusive) legal quality of possession (whether of rights, or property, or another interest) has often constituted what we imagine the political to be contested over at all (and has thus provided the grounds for legal dispute), proprietary approaches have also been considered manifestly insufficient as a reasonable basis for moral claims, or concepts of justice. Because, seeking to reduce politics to possessory characteristics embeds as foundational a compromisingly immoral, and ultimately illogical (Hume; Benjamin), accommodation of violence and exclusion as the basis of human sociality. They are, furthermore, at odds with many customary and traditional ontologies of land.

In this paper I argue that Land Administration’s production of data and information as sufficient in describing land – alongside its specific cross-jurisdictional and international character as increasingly produced through a realm of international regulation and professional expertise, is contributing to the reduction of politics itself to distribution, and (drawing the scholarship of jurisprudence of jurisdiction) I argue that this in turn introduces a new set responsibilities and accountabilities of those individuals and institutions, who engage in the production of land data systems, and technologies. I also outline a provocation to planners interested in data driven governance, especially where seeking to embed international land governance frameworks in their approaches to land justice.  


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