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date: 18 May 2021

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter traces changing Anglo-European conceptions of property and their legal manifestations since John Locke, focusing on the common law world. Tracing this history of property requires an attentiveness to constructions of race. The chapter begins by outlining Locke’s concept of property and its relationship to seventeenth- and eighteenth-century British colonialism. Engaging with Cheryl Harris’s crucial insight that whiteness is property, it discusses conceptual and legal overlaps between having and being in dominant property regimes. The Lockean concept of property constructed land as an object essentially interchangeable with capital, a notion which found legal form in title registration and other legal initiatives which made land more alienable than it had previously been, thus assisting the colonial project of Indigenous dispossession. With the growth of the corporation and the credit economy since the nineteenth century, ownership has been divorced from control in ways that challenge the model of property put forward by Locke and other Anglo-European philosophers. In the culture of debt which pervades twenty-first-century capitalist economies, the subject of property is often also a debtor. This subject tends to be produced not through labor or metaphysical recognition but through increasingly algorithmic consumer surveillance and risk profiling which reproduces social categories including race. To understand property’s changing formations, there is a need for approaches that take seriously property’s white supremacist history and seek out alternative modes of having and being.

Keywords: property, racism, whiteness, colonialism, capitalism, subjectivity

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