Understanding contracts in evolving agro-economies: Fermers, dekhqans and networks in Khorezm, Uzbekistan

Utkur Djanibekov, Kristof Van Assche, Daan Boezeman, Nodir Djanibekov

We combine institutional economic perspectives and actor-network theory to elucidate the role of contracts in the evolution of transitional agricultural systems. Such combination of theories can shed a light on the mutual constitution of actors and institutions, and the formation of economic strategies. We argue that forms and functions of contracts can only be understood in an evolutionary context. In a case study of the Khorezm region, Uzbekistan, where several waves of reform created two principal actors – commercial farms (calledfermers locally) responsible for state-ordered production and semi-subsistence smallholders (calleddekhqans locally) – it is demonstrated how in the self-transformation of the actor-network, and thus the shifts in forms and roles of contracts, several network features play a role: interdependencies between the actors, the essential actant of the irrigation and drainage system, formal/informal dialectics. Time horizons, risk/benefit calculations, trust and cooperation forms emerge in the self-reproducing network and leave space for certain contractual forms and functions.

Journal of Rural Studies

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Social learning and innovation

Kristof Van Assche, Raoul Beunen, Jeff Holm & Ming Lo

In this article we reflect on the evolution of ice-fishing practices at Mille Lacs. Social learning took place largely outside the sphere of government and spurred substantial technological and institutional innovation. The study elaborates on the way in which unique patterns of networks, informal institutions and social learning environments delineate options for social learning that are more likely to succeed, to lead to implementation. The history of social learning on lake Mille Lacs showed that new formal institutions are not necessarily the best sites for social learning, and that forms of innovation and modes of learning cannot be separated. Interdependence and shared goals, and flexibility in role distribution appear as success factors. The diversity of learning sites in a community should not be understood as a problem, as an obstacle to central steering and education by government: it enables the community to adapt and survive.

The article can be found on the website of Land Use Policy

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The good, the bad and the self-referential: heritage planning and the productivity of difference

Heritage planning, as an integrated approach to dealing with traces of the past in the ongoing organisation of the landscape, must be a trans-disciplinary endeavour. Bridging differences between scientific disciplines, as well as sciences and the law, administration, politics and economy, is a continuous challenge. We argue that Niklas Luhmann’s social systems theory, with its sophisticated understanding of society as an evolving population of social systems, is very useful in understanding the value and difficulty of trespassing boundaries in heritage planning, and in understanding the value of conflict and cultivated difference in the planning process.

We reflect on the mechanisms of self-reference and self-reproduction that are at play within the scientific disciplines addressing ‘heritage’, and analyse similar mechanisms within planning administrations. These mechanisms are not in essence negative; they are necessary for the production of the kind of knowledge that is specific for the system or organisation. However, in planning, some form of coordination of interests and types of knowledge is seen as desirable. We argue for an approach to heritage planning that avoids self-reference in the planning system as a whole, while accepting and cherishing the self-reference of the actors. (LINK)

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Formal/Informal Dialectics and the Self-Transformation of Spatial Planning Systems: An Exploration

Kristof Van Assche, Raoul Beunen & Martijn Duineveld

In this article, we present a perspective on the interaction between formal and informal institutions in spatial planning in which they transform each other continuously, in processes that can be described and analyzed as ongoing reinterpretations. The effects of configurations and dialectics are often ambiguous, only partially observable, different in different domains and at different times. By means of analyses of key concepts in planning theory and practice, this perspective is illustrated and developed. Finally, we analyze transformation options in planning systems, emphasizing the limits of formal institutions in transforming formal/informal configurations, and stressing the importance of judgment and conflict.

Published in Administration & Society

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Tblisi:Urban transformation and role transformations in the post-Sovjet metropolis

Kristof Van Assche and Joseph Salukvadze

Tbilisi is the capital of Georgia. This bookchapter describes that and how the urban problems that have emerged since indepence could be addressed by means of urban planning and urban design strategies. The authors show that the new role of developers has acquired a very specific character is Tblisi. Developers are, more than in other transitional countries, influenced by the values and appreciations of the architecture profession, and the special attention of the president. In addition, the relatively small size of the developers’ community makes reputation and long-term vision important. Thus, a reinvention of planning is in the making, perphaps paradoxically, because it comes from the guild of developers rather than from the national government, operating on a mix of neo-liberal policies, pride of place, and suspicion of local government.

In Remaking Metropolis: Global Challenges of the Urban Landscape

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Knowledge in rural transitions. Formal and informal underpinnings of land governance in Khorezm

Kristof van Assche & Anna-Katharina Hornidge

We analyze the shifting selections and roles of knowledge in rapidly evolving rural governance, exemplified by the complex transition of land governance in Khorezm, a province of Uzbekistan. Through a study of the evolution of various organizations involved in land governance at different spatial scales, we reconstruct the changing patterns of formality and informality in the organization and management of land in this irrigated rural area. These patterns, we argue, are crucial in understanding which forms of knowledge could and can play a role in spatial decision‐making.    It is further argued that a widening gap between formal and informal institutions, aggravated by the rhetorical persistence of Soviet planning mythologies, makes it increasingly hard to discern which knowledge plays a role in spatial decision‐making. This situation is bound to hinder planning and development attempts involving the development and application of knowledge. While many observed mechanisms of knowledge selection seem specific to post‐ Soviet transition, we argue that they are present in every situation where planning mythologies and path‐dependencies mark the evolution of rural governance, and that they ought to be studied in their own context before deciding which knowledge could drive development.

The paper can be downloaden here

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Performing failure in conservation policy: The implementation of European Union directives in the Netherlands

Raoul Beunen, Kristof Van Assche and Martijn Duineveld

In this paper the authors present a  theoretical perspective on transition in natural resource governance that derives from narrative theory, discourse theory, rhetoric and cultural studies. The basic assumption is that certain narratives not only describe a certain state of affairs but are integral parts of performances that contribute to the construction of that state of affairs. A certain narrative becomes performative when it is widespread in society, especially among elites, and when it becomes institutionalized in administration and education. The performance of narratives and their possible performativity can create certain path-dependencies that introduce new rigidities in the evolution of the policy field.

This study presents a reconstruction of the evolution of communication about and practical implementation of Natura 2000 in the Netherlands. It shows that conservationists and others involved in nature conservation should pay more attention to the ways in which conservation needs and practices are represented and institutionalized, how these representations become embedded in more general narratives and how the new institutions are bound to be gamed and re-narrated themselves.

The article can be downloaded from the website of Land Use Policy

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Trading capitals? Bourdieu, land and water in rural Uzbekistan

Michael Eichholz, Kristof Van Assche, Lisa Oberkircher & Anna-Katharina Hornidge

In this paper, we use Pierre Bourdieu’s concepts of capitals and fields in the context of a transitional rural economy. We investigate ways to adopt these concepts for the study of land governance, in an attempt to gain new insights in post-socialist transition. By means of an in-depth study of land and water reform in two Uzbek villages, we reveal the intimate connections between access to water and access to land in the Uzbek rural economy, as well as the wide variety of strategies used by farmers to secure access to these resources. It is argued that the increased importance of the political field, in combination with its increased volatility and the dismantling of Soviet local governance, led to opacity in the conversion rates of capitals, to a bet on land as safe haven, and an ambiguous status of money.

Article published in Journal of Environmental Planning and Management – download

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Farm Restructuring and Land Consolidation in Uzbekistan: New Farms with Old Barriers

Nodir Djanibekov, Kristof van Assche, Ihtiyor Bobojonov and John P.A. Lamers

In this article we investigate the potential for and limitations of land consolidation as a tool for rural development in transitional environments, focusing on the Khorezm region in Uzbekistan, Central Asia. We frame our analysis in a broader evaluation of land consolidation as a tool for economic development based on European experiences. It is argued that both the European tradition and the Uzbek case indicate that land consolidation as an isolated measure may trigger many unfavourable side-effects, and that in a transitional environment it requires even more careful tailoring of measures and embedding in various institutional settings.

article in Journal of Europe-Asia Studies

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Regional Planning in the Catalan Pyrenees: Strategies to Deal with Actors’ Expectations, Perceived Uncertainties and Conflicts

gnasi Domingo & Raoul Beunen

Drawing on three case studies in the Catalan Pyrenees (Spain), this paper shows how interactions between planners and stakeholders influence expectations, uncertainties and conflicts during the planning process. Therewith, it provides further understanding of performance of regional planning beyond the formality of plans and policies. The case studies illustrate how planners’ actions can either generate uncertainty, conflicts and frustration, or common understanding, agreements and positive expectations. With these insights, planners can be more conscious about the effects of their communicative strategies on the multiple perceptions of the planning process. Planners need to deal with interpretations of other actors, and they have to be aware of others’ expectations and uncertainties. The positive effect of interactions has limitations because of the unavoidable existence of different perceptions and interests concerning a plan. Nevertheless, planners can generate even greater conflicts themselves if the perceptions from other stakeholders are ignored.

The article is published in European Planning Studies

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