Land Inequality and Rural Unrest: Theory and Evidence from Brazil

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


What is the relationship between landholding inequality and rural unrest? And why does land reform that ostensibly addresses rural grievances sometimes exacerbate unrest? We advance the understanding of these longstanding questions by shifting the emphasis from how landholding inequality fuels rural grievances to how it captures the collective action capacity of landowners. Using municipal-level data from Brazil’s large land reform program from 1988 to 2013, we demonstrate that the relationship between landholding inequality and unrest is conditional. Isolated threats to landed elites in the form of land invasions are difficult to repel, generating a positive relationship between landholding inequality and one-off land invasions. By contrast, sustained, broader local threats triggered by nearby land reforms catalyze landowner organization to repel land invasions, leading to the reverse relationship. The findings provide a novel answer for why a straightforward link between land inequality and rural unrest is elusive and may generalize to a broad range of similar cases.


  • Michael Albertus
  • Thomas Brambor
  • Ricardo Ceneviva
External organisations
  • University of Chicago
  • State University of Rio de Janeiro
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Political Science (excluding Public Administration Studies and Globalization Studies)


  • conflict, conflict management, internal armed conflict, political economy
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)557-596
Number of pages40
JournalJournal of Conflict Resolution
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2018 Mar 1
Publication categoryResearch