Mimicry of the Legal: Translating de jure Land Formalization Processes Into de facto Local Action in Jambi province, Sumatra


  • Yvonne Kunz Georg-August-Universität Göttingen
  • Jonas Hein German Development Institute (DIE)
  • Rina Mardiana Bogor Agricultural University
  • Heiko Faust Georg-August-Universität Göttingen




Indonesia, Land Reform, Land Tenure, Mimicry of the Legal, Politics of Scale


In Indonesia, as in many other countries of the global South, processes to formalize rights over land have been implemented with the intention to reduce deforestation, decrease poverty and increase tenure security. Literature on de jure processes of land formalization is widely available. There is a gap, however, on the discrepancy of de jure land titling procedures and de facto strategies to legitimize land claims. Led by the theoretical concepts of “law as process” and “politics of scale”, this study closes this gap by analyzing the impact of national tenure formalization processes on de facto local patterns of land titling. Using empirical material from 16 villages in Jambi province, we show that the outcomes of the state-led land reforms and land tenure formalization processes are imitated and translated into locally feasible actions. We refer to these translation processes as “mimicry of the legal”. The land formalization endeavors fostering mimicry of the legal allow for resource exploitation and rent-seeking behavior.

Author Biographies

Yvonne Kunz, Georg-August-Universität Göttingen

Yvonne Kunz is a research associate at the Department of Human Geography at the University of Göttingen, Germany. Her research focuses on land tenure processes in Jambi province.

Jonas Hein, German Development Institute (DIE)

Jonas Hein is a researcher at the Department of Environmental Policy and Natural Resources Management at the German Development Institute. He is a geographer who works on the political ecology of land tenure in Indonesia, forest carbon offsets, and international forest and climate policies.

Rina Mardiana, Bogor Agricultural University

Rina Mardiana is lecturer at the Department of Communication & Community Development Sciences at Bogor Agricultural University, Indonesia. Her research focus is on population, agrarian, and political ecology.

Heiko Faust, Georg-August-Universität Göttingen

Heiko Faust is professor at the Division of Human Geography at the University of Göttingen, Germany. He is working on sustainable land use science, rural development in forest frontier areas, and on socio-cultural transformation processes. For more than a decade, Faust has been principle investigator in international collaborative German-Indonesian research centers, focusing on Sulawesi and Sumatra.






Current Research on Southeast Asia