Emeritus Professor Ben Cousins currently holds the DST/NRF Research Chair in Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies
Ben Cousins hold a DPhil. in applied social science from the University of Zimbabwe (1997). He was in exile for 19 years, working in agricultural training and extension in Swaziland and Zimbabwe, and undertaking research on communal grazing, livestock production and rural class formation in Zimbabwe. He founded PLAAS in 1995 and was director until 2009. He has held a DST/NRF Research Chair in Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies since 2010. He is currently rated by South Africa’s National Research Foundation as a researcher who enjoys ‘considerable international recognition for the high quality and impact of his recent research outputs’ (B1). In 2013, he received an inaugural Elinor Ostrom Award, in the senior scholar category, for his contribution to scholarship on the commons.
His research focuses on the key themes of production, property and power and their interconnections in the context of land and agrarian reform in Southern Africa. His research is strategic and oriented towards use by policy-makers and civil society groups concerned to reduce poverty and inequality through redistributing assets, securing rights and democratizing decision-making. The main body of scholarship that informs his work is the political economy of agrarian change, but he also draws on the anthropology of law and land tenure. His work focuses mainly on three key substantive issues: the politics and economics of land and agrarian reform, and the role of small scale agricultural producers within such reforms; the legal recognition of customary land rights; and on the changing nature of rural social relations and identities.
The SARChI Chair in Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies
The Chair’s research programme explores the underlying dynamics of agrarian change in Southern Africa, and assess the implications for policies of land and agrarian reform. Specific themes include the performance of smallholder farmers and farming systems, including livestock production on communal rangeland; tensions between accumulation and social reproduction in rural households engaged in small-scale agriculture; the nature of ‘social tenures’ in rural areas and the impacts of tenure reform policies on rights holders within these tenures; and the structure and functioning and performance of the commercial agricultural sector in South Africa, including its contributions to employment, incomes and food security.
Specific research projects on these themes are undertaken either by the Chair or by postgraduate and post-doctoral students. The overall aims and objectives of the research programme are to:
- conduct rigorous field-based research on agrarian change, land reform and poverty reduction that produces theoretically informed and empirically grounded insights into complex and dynamic social realities;
- explore the policy implications of research findings, in order to develop recommendations for policy makers and programme managers from government, civil society and the private sector;
- communicate the programme’s research findings and policy recommendations to relevant decision-makers, within a well-designed process of policy dialogue;
- publish research findings in internationally recognised and peer-reviewed publication formats, primarily academic journals and books; and
- contribute to international scholarship on questions of agrarian change, land reform and poverty reduction.
Over the past nine years, research outputs by the Chair and a research group composed of postgraduate students include: 65 peer-reviewed articles, books and book chapters; 29 research reports, working papers and policy briefs; 34 articles in popular media; 25 keynote or plenary addresses; and 269 presentations in conferences, workshops or seminars. A total of 17 post-graduate students have graduated within this period.