Daily Archives: February 8, 2010

Welcome to TerraNullius

In my limited blogging experience, first postings are always pretty nervous affairs because (in keeping with the dominant metaphor here) you feel the need to give a grand overview of some terrain you haven’t really mastered yet. With that in mind…

This is a blog about what have come to be known as ‘housing, land and property’ (HLP) issues in the humanitarian and human rights branches but remain more recognizable as housing and land tenure issues in development circles. These are sometimes dismissed as fussy niche issues best left the preserve of technocratic cabals; the likes of surveyers or agronomists or, god help us, international lawyers. However, HLP/tenure issues can be re-framed as central to the world’s most fundamental social and political questions. Put simply, they concern the relationship between people, states and the limited physical territory they share and depend upon for identity and survival.

From this perspective, HLP/tenure issues are profoundly cross-cutting and should be the concern of almost anyone interested in conflict management, governance, rule of law, transitional justice, peace-building, minority and indigenous rights, gender equality, human rights, humanitarian action, disaster response, and development.

The impetus for this blog is the fact that lots of interesting things come across my desk which I rarely have the time to fully process but always try to skim and tuck away for later reference. Keeping in mind the number of people out there who have, against their better judgments, fallen under the sway of HLP/tenure issues, it occurred to me that filing away relevant items (but no privileged work product, of course) in a public and annotated form might might be useful to others as well.

Given the number of debates that persist around HLP/tenure issues and the relatively few fora devoted exclusively to airing them, it is my hope that this blog may also be conducive to the development of shared understandings where possible, and to clarifying debates on opposing viewpoints where not. I would also invite readers of the blog to share interesting anecdotes, texts and inquiries that have arisen in their work in order to circulate them to a wider audience.

As a last point, I sincerely hope no one takes umbrage at the name of this blog. Let me state clearly that I do not desire nor advocate a return to imperial conquest justified by the failure of other people to have their title papers in proper order. I wanted to make some kind of a pun on the fact that a lot of issues in this field remain open and since people like ODI have snapped up all the catchy titles in English, I had to fall back on the old law school trick of doing it in Latin. Terra nullius means ‘land belonging to no one’ and is often used descriptively in places like Antarctica and Marie Byrd Land. However, Australians, Eddie Izzard fans and others will be aware that behind this innocent terminology, sadly, lurks a darker past…

Rhodri C. Williams, Stockholm, 08 February 2010