Urban Theory Lab researchers at the MIT conference "Property from Below: Rethinking Property Rights over Land in a Global Context"

Feb 28, 2014

Several Urban Theory Lab researchers recently participated in a conference at MIT on "Property from Below:  Rethinking Property Rights over Land in a Global Context."  The event was co-organized by Professor Balakrishnan Rajagopol of MIT-DUSP, Professor Olivier DeSchutter of the University of Louvain as well as doctoral candidate Alpen Sheth of MIT-DUSP, who is also a long-standing contributor to the Urban Theory Lab. 

The conference explored the philosophical foundations of property rights in legal discourse as well various ways in which inherited formations of land ownership are being extended--and also contested--under contemporary capitalism.  Of particular interest to our work in the Urban Theory Lab, the conference problematique productively exploded inherited urban/rural and North/South binarisms to reveal the parallel forms of enclosure--and resistance--that are occurring in property systems around the world, from large city centers to relatively remote agricultural and resource extraction regions. 

In his remarks during the closing panel, Neil Brenner of the Urban Theory Lab underscored the need to develop new conceptions of space, territory and land in order to decipher ongoing transformations of property relations in an age of intense land grabbing in strategic zones around the world.  Perhaps, he suggested, contemporary land grabs in the global South represent processes analogous to those which radical urban geographer Neil Smith long ago analyzed at the urban scale under the rubric of the "rent gap":  speculative attempts by rentiers, aided and abetted by state institutions, to capitalize upon the potential ground rent of zones whose current uses do not attain their supposed "highest and best use" for profit-making activities. 

Surely, alternatives to this form of "neo-Haussmannization" (Andy Merrifield) on a world scale are not only possible but necessary.  Several contributors to the conference, including Balakrishnan Rajagopol and Alpen Sheth, showed that such alternatives do indeed exist, and that they continue to be forged through the relentless struggles of social movements around the world against the destructive social and environmental impacts of market fundamentalism.

The conference is connected to the ongoing work of the Displacement Research and Action Network.

Map by UTL researcher, Oscar Malaspina.

tagged with:
Conference, MIT, property rights, land, landgrabbing, Neil Brenner, Andy Merrifield, Alpen Sheth

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