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The Commons at War: Fuzzy Property Rights and Ethnicised Entitlements in Sri Lanka

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Type: Conference Paper
Author: Korf, Benedikt
Conference: Politics of the Commons: Articulating Development and Strengthening Local Practices
Location: Chiang Mai, Thailand
Conf. Date: July 11-14, 2003
Date: 2003
URI: https://hdl.handle.net/10535/1770
Sector: Social Organization
Region: Middle East & South Asia
Subject(s): IASC
common pool resources
civil war
property rights
institutional change
social capital
Abstract: "This paper investigates how ethnic violence and civil war in Sri Lanka have affected the local institutions of property rights. Explaining institutional dynamics on local level is essential to derive policies in the aftermath of civil wars that build up local capacities for peace. My findings complement and substantiate recent insights from quantitative research on the incidence of civil wars and from anthropological studies on the functions and markets of violence. I investigate the history of competing claims and fuzzy property rights in the war zones of Sri Lanka that contributed to create ethnicised grievances. I then seek to understand the institutional connections and alliances between civilians and combattants in the emergent society of violence that shapes local communities in civil war affected areas. I employ an institutionalist perspective drawing on Knight's distributional theory of institutional change and conceptualise social and political capital as individual endowments in the notion of Bourdieus politics of power. The empirical findings are based on qualitative case studies carried out in Trincomalee, an inter-ethnic hotspot of the war zones in Sri Lanka. I elaborate how civilians from different ethnic groups utilise social and political capital to secure property rights to natural resources. The research findings suggest that resource entitlements in Trincomalee are 'ethnicised' in the sense that opportunities and access to resources are unequally distributed among the three ethnic groups, because they are unequally endowed with political capital. This reiterates perceived grievances among the different ethnic groups and thus reproduces the conditions for ethnic violence. The paper concludes that promoting conditions for co-operative relationships in resource management are to be a fundamental part of conflict transformation strategies in civil wars and in the current post-war transition phase in Sri Lanka."

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