While land remains a critical element of diversified rural livelihoods across the Global South, especially during crises, mounting inequalities and enduring rural vulnerability lead to demands for redress. In response, rival reform ideas have emerged concerning how to improve land governance, drive rural development and rectify distributional injustices. Yet, reformist programs in Southeast Asia struggle to address the pervasive problem of â€˜adverse formalizationâ€™ â€“ a term we use to describe processes where the state claims sovereign control of extensive â€˜public landsâ€™ and embarks on formalization processes that include local populations into new land- based production systems on adverse terms. Using the natural experiment of Indonesia, where four tenurial reforms coincide, this paper draws on the governmentality literature to examine how travelling tenure knowledges work as rival and ambiguous political rationalities. We demonstrate how political economy, the need for political legitimacy, and frictional encounters between political knowledges, interests and practices shape the governance effects produced by tenure rationalities. Formalisation processes institutionalise state governance in areas previously resistant to such political rationalities, stabilise existing property relations, and accommodate ad hoc settlements without substantially resolving adverse formalisation while provoking a new politics of land.