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Land that is not Land

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I have an enduring fascination with territory, space, and land and how we think about them. And while there is a lot to be said about that (and I have written multiple articles about it), I want to use this post mainly for something that I find both intriguing and hilarious. It’s about the German cadastral system and its concepts of Geringstland and Unland. This blog probably does not get more nerdy than that…

Geringstland and Unland

In the cadastral system, there are different ways of classifying land. James Scott tells us that this kind of „making nature legible“ is one of the central raisons d’être of the state. These classifications are important for determining tax rates – wine-growing land is assessed differently than that used for forestry or for growing asparagus. (This is Germany, after all.) Generally, you pay higher levels of Grundsteuer for more lucrative parcels of land.

Two of the most interesting categories are Geringstland and Unland. Geringstland („least-land“) is agricultural and forestry farmland that produces the lowest yield. My brother and I once inherited a tiny piece of marshland in Northern Germany that was classified as Geringstland. There was literally nothing we could do with it, and we were very happy to sell it to a local who wanted to preserve the moors.

And then there is Unland (literally „un-land“), a land that in the eyes of the law is not considered land at all. Unland is land in rural areas that is unsuitable for farming or forestry, e.g. dunes or scree. In economic terms, this category implies that land only truly becomes proper „land“ through the possibility of commercial exploitation.

Land + Exploitation = Land

And that’s why I find these categories so interesting. From a social constructivist perspective, land that is not considered land is a fascinating contradiction in terms that only makes sense through the eyes of the law. And it becomes clear that, from whichever economic theory one approaches the issue, capitalism views empty space as a site of unused resources. Nature that cannot be commodified is seen as an aberration. If it cannot be tamed, if it cannot be made available for exploitation, it may as well not exist at all.


  1. […] and its translation to cyberspace, and I have spent considerable effort trying to work this out. (Indeed, it not even clear whether land is land at all…) But that’s an academic issue – in practice, it means that corporations will treat the […]

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