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Marking land, producing markets : the making of a rural Guatemalan land market Gould, Kevin


Markets are often conceptualized as disembodied and removed from daily life. Set against this view, this dissertation examines particular processes through which a market is formed. What are the conditions of possibility for this market? What practices are carried out in its name? How do such practices help to constitute meanings and materialities of subjects and territories? Drawing on archival research, interviews, and twenty months (2003-2005) as a participant observer, this dissertation explores these questions by tracing the emergence of a specific market: a market for rural land in Northern Guatemala. I begin by recounting how World Bank experts succeed in linking a series of rationales, procedures, and experiences into a policy instrument capable of making land markets. I then describe how during nearly five hundred of years of agrarian struggle, rural land and land claiming subjects have come into being in the northern Guatemalan department (province) of Petén. To understand how these rural territories and subjects became articulated with the Bank’s land policy instrument, I examine the making of World Bank-financed land policy in Guatemala during the 1990s. I document the visions and practices of consultants, planners, economists, and government officials as they operationalize the policy. By the early 2000s, the work of creating a land market in Petén consists largely of efforts to make state-sanctioned private property rights in land. To create these rights, technicians working for agrarian institutions distribute legal documents to land claimants, demarcate and map thousands of land claims, and struggle over the costs, responsibilities, and risks of property-rights making. While policy makers claim that this process merely formalizes existing arrangements, I argue that the work of technicians constitutes subjects and territories according to a performative logic. Specifically, I contend that the making of rural property rights constitutes land claimants as individualized national subjects, produces landscapes as national, uncontested and naturally divided into private claims, and contributes to effacing historical and recent processes of dispossession. These results underscore the importance of unearthing the hidden arrangements through which markets are made.

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