Literature on transformations to sustainability increasingly recognizes transformation as inherently political, but the field still struggles to study these politics. Our research project ‘Securing Tenure, Sustainable Peace?’ on efforts to localize land registration in conflict-affected settings, both illustrates and contributes to understanding the politics of transformation. Building on insights from political ecology/economy, legal and political anthropology, and the anthropology of conflict, we analyse the politics involved in (1) the overarching policy discourses that legitimize these interventions; (2) the competition around these programmes; and (3) the outcomes, or the risks and contradictory effects of these programmes. We present insights that we consider relevant to develop better conceptualizations of the politics of transformations in sustainability studies more broadly. In particular, we draw attention to the tendency of de-politicization, which involves the hiding in technical formats of what are in essence political choices; as well as the need to give attention to institutional competition and to risks involved and unexpected outcomes of transformation.