Circular labor migration and land-livelihood dynamics in Southeast Asia's concession landscapes

Lisa C. Kelley, Nancy Lee Peluso, Kimberly M. Carlson, Suraya Afiff

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

41 Citations (Scopus)


Labor migration and large-scale land enclosures are increasingly central to the story of agrarian change throughout the Global South. Nonetheless, there remain limited understandings of how recent explosions of mobile labor and new sources of smallholder capital shape and are shaped by ongoing land use and property transformations. This article reviews this gap in Southeast Asia – a region where labor and capital are highly mobile and where the expansion of industrial agriculture and forestry has been particularly rapid. We begin by synthesizing recent labor migration trends in Southeast Asia and discussing key conceptual frameworks for studying labor mobility and agrarian transformations. We then summarize shifts in land use, land control, and labor relations linked to both labor mobility and large-scale land enclosures. We conclude by highlighting two questions deserving of further study. First, how do large-scale industrial agriculture and forest concessions affect rates and patterns of labor migration out of nearby communities? Second, how do new patterns of household resource control and labor allocation from labor migration affect land use and land cover, particularly in sites dominated by large-scale commodity concessions? These questions cannot yet be answered fully though work has begun to address them both directly or indirectly. We use the existing literature to highlight directions for future research on these themes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)21-33
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Rural Studies
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2020


  • Agrarian change
  • Labor migration
  • Land change
  • Land enclosures
  • Livelihoods
  • Southeast Asia


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