Producing possession: labour, law and land on a Brazilian agricultural frontier, 1920–1945 Academic Article uri icon


  • In this essay I interpret land-access strategies on the mid-twentieth-century Brazilian frontier as the result of local usufruct-based labour relations that manipulated regionally-interpreted land law. Political ecology, New Institutional Economics and bureaucratic institutions literatures inform my labour-law approach to examine how land-tenure regimes are created, controlled and maintained. The microeconomics of two labour systems, contractual claim-staking (the preposto system) and share-tenant farming, reduced the transaction costs involved in land claiming, while capitalising on information asymmetries between workers and land claimants. In several instances coercion was a key element in mobilising labour to create judicially relevant evidence of possession and generate significant rent streams. Land law did not demand such labour relations, but its contradictions encouraged claimants to use prepostos and share- tenant farmers to produce secure land access. This argument supports the notion, developed within political ecology, that local conditions (labour relations and uneven geographical information) mediate the influence of regional factors (interpretation and enforcement of land law). While adopting some concepts from the New Institutional Economics, the argument rejects the claim that land title determines land use and other economic behaviour. © 2001 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.

author list (cited authors)

  • Brannstrom, C.

citation count

  • 28

publication date

  • September 2001