Land, Mobility, and Belonging in West Africa

Land, Mobility, and Belonging in West Africa

Carola Lentz
Distribution: Global
Publication date: 07/05/2013
Format: Hardback 17 maps
ISBN: 978-0-253-00953-1
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Winner, 2014 Herskovits Award

Focusing on an area of the savannah in northern Ghana and southwestern Burkina Faso, Land, Mobility, and Belonging in West Africa explores how rural populations have secured, contested, and negotiated access to land and how they have organized their communities despite being constantly on the move as farmers or migrant laborers. Carola Lentz seeks to understand how those who claim native status hold sway over others who are perceived to have come later. As conflicts over land, agriculture, and labor have multiplied in Africa, Lentz shows how politics and power play decisive roles in determining access to scarce resources and in changing notions of who belongs and who is a stranger.

Author Bio

Carola Lentz is Professor of Social Anthropology in the Department of Anthropology and African Studies at Johannes Gutenberg University.


“Focusing on an area of the savannah in northern Ghana and southwestern Burkina Faso, Carola Lentz looks at how rural populations have negotiated access to land and how they have organized their communities while they are on the move.”

“Important in the sense that it constitutes a detailed historical study of how complex narratives of belonging and notions of property interlock. . . . It is academic work of the first order.”
 — Christian Lund, Roskilde University

“Illuminates the distinctive historical trajectory of land claims, authority, and belonging among the Dagara and Sisala peoples of the Black Volta region, and locates this specific case history within broader debates over transformation in access, use, and control over land in colonial and postcolonial Africa.”
 — Sara Berry, Johns Hopkins University

“Lentz’s work is distinguished by the intensity of its focus. Not soon is anyone likely to cover her chosen topic and place more thoroughly.”
 — African Studies Review

“[An] impressive book . . . Land, Mobility, and Belonging in West Africa deserves a wide readership, as it does much to improve our understanding of how property and belonging is established and contested under spatially and organizationally fluid circumstances.”
 — Anthropological Quarterly

“Careful research design and case justification, and probing of arguments with detailed empirical material, make Lentz’s arguments compelling for political scientists as well as the social and economic anthropologists and historians who make up much of the natural constituency for this impressive study.”
 — Journal of Modern African Studies

“A short review cannot do justice to a magisterial historical and contemporary (through 2001) account of processes of change and continuity. Rich in narratives, readers will be grateful for the attention to comparison, nuance, and detail.”
 — American Anthropologist

“[A] major contribution to the ethnography of the north of Ghana, an area seriously underserved in this regard . . . and to the ongoing national debate in Ghana about land ownership and the fiercely contested claims of autochthons and strangers.85.2 May 2015”
 — Africa

“This book makes an important contribution to the scholarship on the transformation of African concepts of land tenure. It shows that history and memory are important resources in conflicts over property and belonging. . . . The book adds to the recent debates on customary tenure by exploring the precolonial history of property claims.”
 — Journal of West African History

“[This] book makes a remarkable contribution to the growing literature on mobility in Africa. Its emphasis on both the social and spatial strategies of West African agriculturalists makes it a highly recommended read for scholars and policymakers dealing with migration, mobility, resource management, and land conflict resolution in West Africa.”
 — Journal of African History

“This significant study enhances understanding of the dynamics of rural societies across the continent. . . . Highly recommended. ”
 — Choice

“Lentz’s work is Africanist ethnography and history at its finest and is a masterfully compiled piece of scholarship on issues of land rights, property regimes, and ethnicity in Africa. In wonderful ethnographic detail, the author presents a stimulating and historically rich treatment of ethnic group mobility and the ways in which different societies legitimate their land claims. This volume should be considered essential reading to all scholars working on the interface between land and identity in Africa.”
 — Anthropos

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Table of Contents

1. Pushing Frontiers: The Social Organisation of Mobility
2. Staking Claims: Earth Shrines, Ritual Power and Property Rights
3. Setting Boundaries, Negotiating Entitlements: Contested Borders and ‘Bundles’ of Rights
4. Ethnicity, Autochthony and the Politics of Belonging
5. History vs. history: Contemporary Land Conflicts in a Context of Legal and Institutional Pluralism