Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Global Governance

Program Name/Specialization

Comparative Politics/International Relations


Faculty of Arts

First Advisor

Prof. Frederick Bird

Advisor Role


Second Advisor

Prof. Derek Hall

Advisor Role


Third Advisor

Prof. Jennifer Clapp

Advisor Role

Committee member


The role of investor countries in large-scale land acquisitions is poorly understood in the contemporary “land grab” literature. Orthodox explanations largely build on deductive analyses that deviate from the emerging empirical evidence, and/or face analytical difficulties when trying to capture why large-scale land acquisitions happen. This thesis investigates the global phenomenon of “land grabbing” from the comparative perspective of two major investor countries: the UK and China. The regional focus is on Sub-Saharan Africa, a major target of land-consuming investments since 2000.

The dissertation advances three arguments: Firstly, the specific details of the home country’s industrial set-up, development challenges, ideological framing, political economy, and significant events are critical to understanding what is happening. Chinese outward FDI (OFDI) reflects the demands of the country’s resource-intensive and market-dependent manufacturing industry, and is part of economic upgrading. In the case of the UK, large-scale land acquisitions occur in response to reforms in the host countries, to international and domestic energy and climate policies, and to reindustrialization efforts.

Secondly, the comparative perspective reveals that in spite of their differences, both countries share many similarities, such as the complexity of agencies, structures, and events involved, the guiding ideology in place, and the institutional framework supporting OFDI. This fact is overlooked by orthodox explanations of “land grabbing” which apply a narrow state-capitalist or market economic framing to explicate Chinese and British investments, respectively. Importantly, both countries’ governments frame OFDI as a strategic instrument to pursue particular development ambitions.

This thesis has also reviewed the main features of late 19th-century colonial and imperial practices, to be aware of important factors and dynamics in the evaluation of contemporary land acquisitions. From this historical perspective, thirdly, it argues that contemporary land-consuming OFDI activities have novel and “old” features in comparison to the Scramble for Africa. On the one hand, core institutions, ideas, and structures that emerged in the 19th century are still part of the topography of today’s global society. The complexity of motives, actors, and sectors at play also strongly resembles that of the past. On the other hand, a more detailed assessment of those features highlights that their characteristics have changed in key respects: corporations have gained discretionary power vis-à-vis the state; host country governments proactively seek to attract foreign capital (rather than it being forced upon them); existing institutional structures supporting OFDI have been strengthened domestically and internationally, both in home and host countries; and contemporary capital exports by newcomers such as China reflect processes of global economic restructuring of which these overseas investments form a part.

Convocation Year