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Emeritus Professor Ben Cousins


Ben Cousins holds 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 from 2010 to 2019. 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.

Research Focus

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 democratising 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.


  • DPhil in Applied Social Science, University of Zimbabwe, 1997
  • BA in Sociology and Geography, University of South Africa, 1982

Selected Publications

Cousins, Ben, 2007.  “More than socially embedded: the distinctive character of ‘communal tenure’ regimes in South Africa and its implications for land policy”,  Journal of Agrarian Change, Vol 7, No. 3:  281-315.

Claassens, Aninka and Ben Cousins, (eds.). 2008. Land, power and custom:  Controversies generated by South Africa’s Communal Land Rights Act. Cape Town: UCT Press and Columbus: Ohio University Press.

Cousins, Ben and Ian Scoones, 2010. “Contested paradigms of ‘viability’ in redistributive land reform: perspectives from southern Africa”. Journal of Peasant Studies 37 (1): 31-66.

Cousins, Ben, 2013. ‘Smallholder irrigation schemes, agrarian reform and ‘accumulation from above and from below’ in South Africa’, Journal of Agrarian Change, 13(1):  116-39.

Aliber, Michael, Themba Maluleke, Tshililo Manenzhe, Gaynor Paradza and Ben Cousins, 2013. Land reform and Livelihoods. Trajectories of change in Limpopo Province, South Africa. Cape Town: HSRC Press

Cousins, Ben and Cherryl Walker (eds.), 2015. Land Divided, Land Restored. Land Reform in South Africa for the 21st Century. Johannesburg: Jacana.

Hornby, Donna, Rosalie Kingwill, Lauren Royston and Ben Cousins (eds.), 2017. Untitled. Securing Land Tenure in Urban and Rural South Africa. Durban: University of KwaZulu-Natal Press.

Cousins Ben, Alex Dubb, Donna Hornby & Farai Mtero, 2018. ‘Social reproduction of “classes of labour” in the rural areas of South Africa: contradictions and contestations, Journal of Peasant Studies, 45:5-6, 1060-1085.