Conjuring Property

Speculation and Environmental Futures in the Brazilian Amazon

Jeremy M. Campbell

  • Published: December 2015
  • Subject Listing: Anthropology; Latin American Studies; Environmental Studies
  • Bibliographic information: 256 pp., 19 illus., 4 maps, 6 x 9 in.
  • Territorial rights: World Rights
  • Series: Culture, Place, and Nature
  • Contents

Winner of the 2017 James M. Blaut Award from the Cultural and Political Ecology Specialty Group of the Association of American Geographers
Honorable Mention for the 2016 Book Prize from the Association for Political and Legal Anthropology

Since the 1960s, when Brazil first encouraged large-scale Amazonian colonization, violence and confusion have often accompanied national policies concerning land reform, corporate colonization, indigenous land rights, environmental protection, and private homesteading. Conjuring Property shows how, in a region that many perceive to be stateless, colonists - from highly capitalized ranchers to landless workers - adopt anticipatory stances while they await future governance intervention regarding land tenure. For Amazonian colonists, property is a dynamic category that becomes salient in the making: it is conjured through papers, appeals to state officials, and the manipulation of landscapes and memories of occupation. This timely study will be of interest to development studies scholars and practitioners, conservation ecologists, geographers, and anthropologists.
Jeremy M. Campbell is associate professor of anthropology at Roger Williams University.

"Campbell's writing is fluid and engaging. He demonstrates how large-holders (grandes) and homesteaders alike use parallel forms of graft, coercion, and chicanery to claim land."
-Liza Grandia, author of Enclosed: Conservation, Cattle, and Commerce among the Q'eqchi' Maya Lowlanders

"Campbell breaks new ground in Latin American ethnographic treatments of Amazonia through the focus on layered histories of promised development that have, over the years, drawn diverse people to these places, and prompted the varied and unexpected modes of speculative accumulation described."
-Penny Harvey, professor of social anthropology, University of Manchester

Foreword by K. Sivaramakrishnan

Introduction Real Estate in Wild Country
1. Frontier Capitalism and Figuring the State
2. The Labors of Grilagem
3. Speculative Accumulation
4. Living Proleptically in the Environmental Era
5. Regularization and the Land Question
Conclusion On Property and Devastation


"Conjuring Property provides a rare insight into the social structure, class divisions and psychology of colonist communities. The awareness and empathy that can be taken from Campbell's findings are his most significant contribution, and will prove valuable to anyone seeking a greater understanding of the Amazon's complex, and often oversimplified, society."
-Catherine Morgans, Latin American Bureau's Latin America Inside Out (LAIO) Blog

"Campbell's excellent research and writing takes on extra significance in producing a full and nuanced ethnography of a colonist settlement in the central Brazilian Amazon. . . . An effective and dynamic portrait of this 'frontier' region."
-Evan Killick, Journal of Anthropological Research

"A real novelty for studies on the Amazon. It helps rethink the region's identity and history by showing the agency of small and mid-range settlers with unprecedented precision and evidence. . . . A particularly important book for historians."
-Antoine Acker, H-LatAm

"Campbell explores in thrilling detail the way that these territorial policies have intersected with life on the ground to produce both spectacular and scandalous policy failures and the effective transformation of the region. . . . This is an honest and necessary assessment of the potentially catastrophic future that Amazonia faces emerging from this rigorous, important, and rather devastating research into how capitalism and the state are constructed on a daily basis in Amazonia."
-Brenda Baletti, AAG Review of Books

"Conjuring Property is a welcome close ethnographic account. . . . Campbell's prose reads effortlessly, and the reader is transported from intimate conversations with homesteaders to more abstract discussions on Marx' concept of alienation without a hint of altitude sickness. . . . The book enters the shelves of works such as Social Facts and Fabrications by Moore (1986) and Weapons of the Weak by Scott (1985)."
-Christian Lund, Journal of Agrarian Change

"A real novelty for studies on the Amazon. It helps rethink the region's identity and history by showing the agency of small and mid-range settlers with unprecedented precision and evidence. . . . A particularly important book for historians."

"Conjuring Property provides particularly salient lessons for anthropologists as well as multidisciplinary researchers and practitioners of conservation, development, and environmental governance."
-Jeffrey Hoelle, American Ethnologist (AE)

"Shows how the land law in Brazil has evolved since the Amazon colonization era and how the government and many NGOs influenced local communities to participate in development planning and the propagation of development concepts in land claiming in the Amazon."
-Marcellus M. Caldas, Journal of Latin American Geography

"One of far too few works in the literature on the Brazilian Amazon today explicitly focused on the fate and visons of colonizers. . . . [Campbell] shows unique evidence of the colonizers simultaneously claiming land under sustainable development schemes while not giving up on other land claims based on past land regularization schemes. . . . The book sheds light on how property is not a fixed category and comprises part of a political economy in formation."
-Martin Delaroche, Anthropos

"Demonstrates how colonists conjucture, speculate, and manipulate the environment, and each other's labor, in hope that their rationale and actions will fit desired state-sanctioned property forms in the future. . . . [A] complex and well-written ethnography. . . . Describes how improvisation transforms into legitimacy through an emerging neoliberal order that is 'rigged for theft and destruction.'"
-John Ben Soileau, Anthropology and Humanism