Colonial Lives of Property

Law, Land, and Racial Regimes of Ownership

Colonial Lives of Property

Global and Insurgent Legalities

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Book Pages: 280 Illustrations: Published: May 2018

Author: Brenna Bhandar

Law > Legal Theory, Native and Indigenous Studies, Postcolonial and Colonial Studies

In Colonial Lives of Property Brenna Bhandar examines how modern property law contributes to the formation of racial subjects in settler colonies and to the development of racial capitalism. Examining both historical cases and ongoing processes of settler colonialism in Canada, Australia, and Israel and Palestine, Bhandar shows how the colonial appropriation of indigenous lands depends upon ideologies of European racial superiority as well as upon legal narratives that equate civilized life with English concepts of property. In this way, property law legitimates and rationalizes settler colonial practices while it racializes those deemed unfit to own property. The solution to these enduring racial and economic inequities, Bhandar demonstrates, requires developing a new political imaginary of property in which freedom is connected to shared practices of use and community rather than individual possession.


"I am obsessed with the force and eloquence with which [Bhandar] analyzes the birth of private property and its ongoing devastating effects. This book is going to be precious to me and many other people, too." — Jordy Rosenberg, Shelf Awareness

"A multidisciplinary and highly original historical account of the legal and philosophical justifications for appropriation and private ownership in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries." — Liz Fekete, Race & Class

"The ease with which Bhandar brings together legal and social theories to tackle the question of racial regimes of ownership has resulted in a book that is original and challenging at the same time." — John Solomos, Ethnic and Racial Studies

"Bhandar's important and nuanced book is highly recommended to those with an interest in property theory." — Ambreena Manji, Journal of Law and Society

"Through close reading of the work of property philosophers as they travel between settler colonial spaces, Bhandar sheds light on where and how the most corrosive ideologies of property reside in the interstitial spaces of everyday culture." — Anjali Vats, Quarterly Journal of Speech

"Colonial Lives of Property is a deft and nuanced analysis of the various ways that property—as both a concept and a set of practices—has been formative to the production and maintenance of categories of racial governance in late modern and contemporary settler colonial societies. It makes significant contributions to social, political, and legal theory, as well as to Indigenous and settler colonial studies and is a necessary text for those with active research agendas or pedagogical interests in those fields. . . . Colonial Lives of Property offers an impressive, sweeping critical analysis of the property-race nexus in settler colonial contexts." — Robert Nichols, Theory & Event

"The central arguments of this book—the mutual constitution of modern property laws and racial subjectivities, as 'racial regimes of ownership'—make a compelling scholarly intervention." — Kathleen Birrell, Law, Culture, and Humanities

"This powerful and profoundly political book explores ownership through the prism of the modern emergence of property law and contemporaneous conceptualizations of race. In colonial jurisdictions, property law—that 'terrible right'—legalized and continues to legitimate the expropriation of land and wealth, structuring a form of domination adequate to it. Two questions lie at the core of Brenna Bhandar's analysis: In light of the travels of property law between the metropole and the colonies, is it possible today to push back against it? So that, along with law, property too may be thrown into question?" — Antonio Negri

“Brenna Bhandar's enthralling book peels the veneer of property law from that which lies concealed beneath—the multiplicitous structures of dominance that define our contemporary settler-colonial world, all the way from Parramatta to Palestine. Here is a trenchant reassertion of the capacities of Marxist analysis to plumb dispossessions both historic and current, and to expose the entwined regimes of ownership and of racial hegemony that sustain them.” — Christopher Tomlins, author of Freedom Bound: Law, Labor, and Civic Identity in Colonizing English America, 1580–1865

“In this original study, Brenna Bhandar analyzes the constitutive role of colonialism in the development of modern property law and the modern legal subject. Bhandar's sophisticated comparative research on the political-economic imagination and legal infrastructure of settler colonialism is completely fascinating. And her stunning elaboration of what she names 'racial regimes of ownership' is utterly brilliant. A timely and essential book that will fundamentally change the way we think about race, property, and subjectivity.” — Avery F. Gordon, author of The Hawthorn Archive: Letters from the Utopian Margins


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Price: $26.95

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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Brenna Bhandar is Senior Lecturer in the School of Law at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, and coeditor of Plastic Materialities, also published by Duke University Press.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments  ix
Introduction: Property, Law, and Race in the Colony  1
1. Use  33
2. Propertied Abstractions  77
3. Improvement  115
4. Status  149
Conclusion: Life beyond the Boundary  181
Notes  201
Bibliography  239
Index  257
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-7146-5 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-7139-7
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