The Making of Capital: A Critique of Urban Land Titling in Peru

Date of Award

June 2019

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




Matthew T. Huber


Housing, Informality, Land Titling, Peru, Political Geography, Urban Geography

Subject Categories

Social and Behavioral Sciences


In 1987, Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto Polar made the first rigorous case for urban land titling in Peru. He argued that awarding individual, private property titles to informal households would lead to less political dissent and improved economic development across the country (de Soto 2000). Seven years later, Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori, influenced by de Soto’s work, established the Organismo de Formalización de la Propiedad Informal (COFOPRI) to oversee Peru’s new urban land titling program (Cantuarias & Delgado 2004). Following the financial success of the program, the World Bank, which funded the project as a pilot program, established similar land titling policies across the world. While numerous studies have evaluated the socio-economic effects of urban land titling programs, few studies have considered how these programs are carried out. This prevents us from understanding how and why these effects occur. Informed by two-months of archival and qualitative fieldwork in Lima, Peru, this thesis argues that urban land titling does not ‘unlock the mysterious capital’ hidden in the informal economy, but rather, it actively necessitates state intervention in the economy to create formal land markets. In the first chapter, I argue that these interventions rely on a historical and political shift in how the Peruvian state conceptualizes capital. This shift made it possible to analyze all informal assets, including housing, land, and appliances, as capital. The second chapter examines how urban land titling enacted this shift through a neoliberal restructuring of the informal economy, which created insurmountable contradictions in the state’s formalization policy. These contradictions entail the expansion in the neoliberal state’s control over the informal economy and the upscaling of these powers to the national government. Meanwhile, the third chapter considers how urban land titling required property and cadastral maps to function. These maps constitute new geographic knowledges that reduce formal and informal spaces to property values, obscuring the various social needs of informal communities. Altogether, this thesis contends that urban land titling is not an apolitical, market-based development policy, but rather, it is a political project to actively impose market logics on the informal economy. Unfortunately, a persistent commitment to this political project has also limited urban land titling’s ability improve lives of Peru’s lowest income groups.


SURFACE provides description only. Full text may be available to ProQuest subscribers. Please ask your Librarian for assistance.

This document is currently not available here.