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Photo of Karin Steen

Karin Steen

Senior lecturer

Photo of Karin Steen

Time to farm : A qualitative inquiry into the dynamics of the gender regime of land and labour rights in subsistence farming: an example of the Chiweshe communal area, Zimbabwe


  • Karin Steen

Summary, in English

In the context of multiple stressors such as land shortage and food insecurity, the thesis deals with gendered land and labour rights as a social aspect of food production in subsistence agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa. Using the Chiweshe communal area in Zimbabwe as an example, it identifies, investigates and draws conclusions on higher order social processes of gender, power and incremental institutional change in a local context. To that end, it investigates how access to and control over land and labour rights are governed by gender and how that determines men’s and women’s social goals in production and reproduction as well as their strategies for meeting the goals and the opportunities for achieving them.

Using a qualitative method of inquiry based on interviews and observations with maize peasant farmers, men and women, an empirical material is constructed and interpreted. Using constructivist grounded theory, men’s and women’s social goals and strategies in production and reproduction are identified, mapped out and analysed. Drawing on gender theory and new institutional theory, which recognise power and discursive signs of institutional change in rules, norms and values, it uncovers layers of social complexity in the dynamics between female and male land rights as well as between male land rights and female labour in the gender regime. In so doing, it shows how power relations emerging from unequal land and labour rights are enacted in cooperation, competition and conflict within polygyny, between spouses and between co-wives.

The findings show how land, besides being a natural resource for food production, is an important social, cultural and intergenerational symbol, especially for men. This has implications for women and for their position and room of manoeuvre in food production. It also shows how the gender regime is subject to incremental institutional change through gendered agency, mainly from within the regime but accelerated by land scarcity as an external process. To conclude, the gender regime of land and labour rights has implications for how gender is enacted in everyday strategies, constructed in terms of female and male identities and configured in terms of masculinity and femininity. In the end, it is argued, these conditions affect food production and, in its extension, also food security.


  • LUCSUS (Lund University Centre for Sustainability Studies)

Publishing year





Lund Dissertations in Sustainability Science



Document type



Lund University Centre for Sustainability Studies (LUCSUS)


  • Other Social Sciences


  • Food production
  • gender dynamics
  • institutional change
  • labour rights
  • land rights
  • polygyny
  • power
  • rights-in-person
  • subsistence farming
  • sub-Saharan Africa




  • Anne Jerneck


  • ISBN: 978-91-979832-0-4

Defence date

30 September 2011

Defence time


Defence place

Världen 1st floor, Geocentrum I, Sölvegatan 10, Lund


  • Petra Tschakert (Associate professor)