It is no accident that the development of modern European property theories also coincide with colonization and chattel slavery; indeed, they functioned both to justify and to motivate these practices, further driving geoplanetary transformations. These ideas undergird the everyday, Gramscian “common sense” of property: exclusive ownership by a self-possessive individual, legitimated by acts of “improvement” in terms legible to capital. This same ideology animates both the transformation of working-class apartments into luxury condos and right-wing opposition to the regulations that might mitigate climate catastrophe. In many ways, surviving the Anthropocene demands coming to grips with property, and fast.
More concretely, this book also orients readers to the landscapes of property in a particular place—the hilly, unglaciated or “Driftless” area of southwest Wisconsin—for a particular occasion: an experimental seminar offered in September 2019 as part of the Haus der Kulturen der Welt’s Mississippi: An Anthropocene River. It therefore interleaves more theoretical or (trans)national historical essays with accounts of how property has been practiced—and where it breaks down—in this corner of the rural Midwest. For example, it is illuminating to examine, with Cheryl Harris, how whiteness operates politically and cul- turally as a type of property. Applying this analysis to the racial violence faced by the Arms family and their white “race traitor” neighbor in 1960s Wisconsin allows us to grasp the lived textures of the race-property-nature nexus in an entirely different way. The varied, local experiences of what Eli Elinoff and Tyson Vaughan dub the “quotidian Anthropocene” highlight both the unevenness and relationality of planetary ecological transformations that the universalizing term tends to obscure.
Beyond Property is an artful field guide to the proposition that property is a key technology of the Anthropocene. At once theoretical and grounded, the booklet combines excerpts from key critical texts on property with collaged images built of observational sketches of the land and its constitutive elements (rocks, minerals), plat drawings, and bank security patterns.
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Sarah Kanouse, Beyond Property, 2019. Part of Field Guides to the Anthropocene Drift, published by Field Station 2 with the Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, and the Goethe Institute, Chicago.