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Published in: The Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology, Volume. 19, Issue 2, 2014.


This article explores how nonindigenous settlers in the Brazilian Amazon pursue vernacular territorial strategies as they attempt to make property legible and legitimate in an emerging order of state-led governance reforms. In Amazonia, official figurations for the development of the region have layered upon one another over the past 50 years, depositing a range of contradictory procedures for claiming, holding, and disposing of property. Ethnography shows how residents draw on the ambiguous history of property-making and their deep familiarity with surrounding landscapes to influence new environmental governance paradigms. With the goal of appearing in line with state-led tenure reform, colonists engage in a form of speculative accumulation: not an accumulation of territories as such, but of means to defend or extend one’s future land claims. Remaining viable in a possible future governance scheme requires colonists to pursue a range of surprising material and discursive practices.