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.
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
"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?"
“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
"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."
"A multidisciplinary and highly original historical account of the legal and philosophical justifications for appropriation and private ownership in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries."
Race & Class
"Bhandar's important and nuanced book is highly recommended to those with an interest in property theory."
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."
Quarterly Journal of Speech