The Political Origins of Colonial Land Policy: Evidence from British India and French Algeria

Adria Lawrence, Johns Hopkins University
Fahad Sajid, University of Chicago

The literature on colonial legacies attributes a range of postcolonial outcomes to colonial institutions. Less is known, however, about why colonial approaches varied to begin with. A prominent set of answers to this question focuses on pre-colonial attributes, suggesting that colonial institutions were designed to reflect the environmental and socio-political conditions that the colonizers encounter in the colonies. Drawing from scholarship on the colonial state, we challenge this view. Through comparing land policy in British India and French Algeria, we show that property rights regimes were shaped by intense ideological competition within the colonial bureaucracy. Instead of adapting their policies to the “facts on the ground,” officials represented local conditions in ways that reflected their own preconceived commitments. We conclude that attention to politics during the colonial era can account for unexplained subnational and intertemporal variation in colonial-era governance.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 36. Land and Empire in North Africa