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The “Bad Numbers” of the Global Land Rush: Evidence from upland Southeast Asia

Tue. January 30 @ 3:30 pm - 5:00 pm

Join us for a lecture by Dr. Michael Dwyer of the Department of Geography at Indiana University Bloomington. Learn more about the talk below:


Since its identification as a coherent phenomenon in the late 2000s, the global land rush has always been – at least partially, and often uneasily – a story of numbers: a thousand hectares here, a million hectares there. Yet these numbers always come with caveats, reflecting hopes, rumors, or plans rather than objective descriptions of enclosure itself. Drawing on recently published research on Chinese state-backed investment in Laos and Myanmar, my talk examines why it has been – and why it remains – so hard to get good numbers about transnational land deals in the global South; and (2) the implications of the answers for actors at the interface of social movements and policy advocacy. The talk is based on my 2022 book Upland Geopolitics: Postwar Laos and the Global Land Rush, as well as in-press research (with Juliet Lu) on China’s opium-replacement policy in Laos and Myanmar, and it locates the ongoing trouble of “bad numbers” in the politics of ongoing state formation. It argues that bad numbers are thus an effect of the same dynamics that facilitate land grabbing rather than merely barriers to understanding it. It concludes by discussing how transparency politics relate – sometimes complementarily, sometimes uneasily – to various forms of advocacy related to transnational land deals. 


About Michael Dwyer 

Mike Dwyer is a political geographer whose research examines the intersections of land governance and international development. He has conducted fieldwork in Southeast Asia since 2004 on socio-political, historical and legal geographies of agrarian transitions and state territoriality, focusing on large-scale land deals, land titling schemes, road and energy infrastructure, and carbon forestry/REDD+. Mike is the author of Upland Geopolitics: Postwar Laos and the Global Land Rushand co-editor of Turning Land into Capital: Development and Dispossession in the Mekong Region (both University of Washington Press, 2022). He is currently researching rural electrification for climate finance at the farm-forest interface.


Tue. January 30
3:30 pm - 5:00 pm
Event Categories:


FedEx Global Education Center, Room 4003
Chapel Hill, NC United States + Google Map


Carolina Asia Center
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The Carolina Asia Center supports diverse Asia-related events. However, CAC co-sponsorship of any talk, seminar, documentary screening, film screening, performance or celebration does not constitute endorsement of or agreement with the views presented therein. As an academic institution, we value diverse perspectives that promote dialogue and understanding.

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