University of Cambridge > > Critical Theory and Practice Seminar > Cultures of dispossession: critical reflections on status, rights and identities

Cultures of dispossession: critical reflections on status, rights and identities

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Dispossession has long been a concept pervasive in the work of scholars and activists seeking to describe, analyse and challenge racial capitalism. To be dispossessed of one’s home, land, territory, means of subsistence, history, language, and sense of self has been a defining experience of much of the world’s population in the modern era. The global reaches of imperialism have not been relegated to a distant past, but are a networked legacy instrumental to shaping contemporary forms of modernity. Yet the acceleration of dispossession, and the extension of its grasp in contemporary late capitalism have produced its own cultural logics, affects and ways of being, which we refer to here as “cultures of dispossession”. With this formulation we seek to highlight the normalised practices of dispossession that cannot be singly located in an economic, social or legal register. Cultural formations of dispossession reflect the uneven impact of several hundred years of capitalist accumulation, centralised through the agency of the possessive individual and its corollary, the subject (always-already) ontologically and politically dispossessed of the capacity to appropriate and own, to be self-determining. The racialised and gendered formations that constitute the primary focus of the essays collected in this volume are not contingent but constitutive of dispossession – as it unfolds across material, social, psychic and juridical fields. Taken as a whole, the essays chart some of the ways in which the geopolitical realities of territorial dispossession and displacement are intertwined with cultural, psychic and affective forms of dispossession.


Brenna Bhandar is Senior Lecturer in Law, SOAS . Her current research project explores the relationship between racial formations and modern property law in settler colonial contexts. She examines the articulation of race and ownership as a conjuncture that emerges through the appropriation of Indigenous lands, drawing on archival sources and interviews in Canada, Australia and Israel/Palestine. She is co-editor (with Jon Goldberg-Hiller) of the book Plastic Materialities: Legality, Politics and Metamorphosis in the work of Catherine Malabou (Duke University Press, 2015). The contributions in this volume assess the political and philosophical implications of Malabou’s innovative combination of poststructuralism and neuroscience across disciplines. She is also co-editor of the forthcoming special issue of Darkmatter Journal, “Reflections on Dispossession: Critical Feminisms” (with Davina Bhandar).

This talk is part of the Critical Theory and Practice Seminar series.

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