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Title: The social politics of dispossession : informal institutions and land expropriation in China
Authors: Kan, K 
Issue Date: 1-Dec-2020
Source: Urban studies, 1 Dec. 2020, v. 57, no. 16, p. 3331-3346
Abstract: Extant studies on land dispossession often focus on its economic and extra-economic aspects, with respective emphasis on the operation of market mechanisms and the deployment of state-led coercion in bringing about the separation of households from their land. This article draws attention to the under-examined role of informal institutions in the politics of dispossession. Social organisations such as lineages and clans pervade grassroots societies and are central to land control and configurations of property rights. In China, the reconsolidation of lineages as shareholding corporations that develop real estate and operate land transfers has rendered them prominent actors in the politics of land and urbanisation. Drawing on an empirical case study, this article argues that informal institutions play a crucial role in mediating both the economic and extra-economic processes of dispossession. It further shows how, by providing the networks necessary for collective mobilisation and supplying the normative framework through which rightful shares in land are claimed, social organisations are at the same time instrumental in the organisation of anti-dispossession struggles. By unravelling the social dynamics that underlie land expropriation, this article offers a nuanced perspective to the politics of dispossession that goes beyond narratives of state-led coercion and market compulsion.
Keywords: China
Informal institutions
Land expropriation
Publisher: SAGE Publications
Journal: Urban studies 
ISSN: 0042-0980
EISSN: 1360-063X
DOI: 10.1177/0042098019897880
Rights: © Urban Studies Journal Limited 2020
This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 License ( which permits non-commercial use, reproduction and distribution of the work without further permission provided the original work is attributed as specified on the SAGE and Open Access pages (
The following publication Kan, K. (2020). The social politics of dispossession: Informal institutions and land expropriation in China. Urban Studies, 57(16), 3331–3346 is available at
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