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Political Theory

H14(d) - Critical Approaches to Land

Date: Jun 5 | Time: 03:45pm to 05:15pm | Location: SWING 308

Chair/Président/Présidente : James Ingram (McMaster University)

Discussant/Commentateur/Commentatrice : James Ingram (McMaster University)


Session Abstract: This panel brings together different perspectives on land in political theory: indigenous studies, gender and land, race and dispossession, the history of political economy, and contemporary critical theory. What the different scholars on the panel share is a critical approach to land. Our aim, then, is both to shed light a wide range of territorial themes of both contemporary and historical importance—including land grabbing, resource sovereignty, gender in indigenous conceptions of land, land acquisition in works of classical political economy, and race and dispossession in the United States—but also to draw out of these themes a discussion about how to theorize land across different critical methodologies.


Land Grabbing and the Contradictions of Territorial Sovereignty: Anna Jurkevics (University of British Columbia)
Abstract: The recent phenomenon of land grabbing, i.e. the large-scale acquisition of private land rights by foreign investors, is an effect of increasing global demand for farmland. In 2008-2010 alone, land grabs covered an estimated 51-63 million hectares of land (approximately the size of France), causing upheaval and displacement for inhabitants. This article proposes a philosophical framework which evaluates land grabbing as a practice of territorial alienation, whereby the private purchase of land can, under certain conditions, lead to a de facto alienation of territorial sovereignty. Accordingly, where land grabs alienate territorial sovereignty, affected inhabitants may legitimately claim a violation of the international law principle of “permanent sovereignty over natural resources.” However, because the structure of sovereignty is also among the causes of land grabbing, I argue that inhabitants should instead invoke the principle of self-determination, which is compatible with both self-rule and the dispersal of sovereignty.


Political Subjectivities and the Re-emergence of Kikawinaw Askiy (Mother Earth): Kathy Walker (University of British Columbia)
Abstract: In shared political spaces on iyiniwi ministik (North America), the nehiyawak spiritual and gendered/kinship view of the land as kikawinaw askiy (mother earth) is relegated to relative non-existence in an othered world of unrecognizability. In effect, mother earth is the original, missing, and presumably murdered indigenous woman. In this paper, I trace the contingent historical, discursive and nondiscursive conditions of the submergence of kikawinaw askiy as a political subject and her contemporary reemergence through nehiyawak political praxis. I argue that mother earth’s re-emergence and further movement from the margins to the centre of dominant political praxis requires a reformulation of the categories of personhood and territory by which dominant political subjectivities are recognized. Specifically, I focus on how the idea of the human and the ideal human in political subjectivity exclude nehiyawak recognition of the interrelatedness of spirit, gender and land, and then I seek to reintroduce a political subjectivity based on nehiyawak logic and lived experience that centres kikawinaw askiy.


Layers of Dispossession: Settler Memory and the Blindspot in the Mirror of Reconstruction: Kevin Bruyneel (Babson College)
Abstract: In this paper I re-examine the political memory of the Reconstruction Era in the United States, primarily through W.E.B. Du Bois’s Black Reconstruction in America: 1860-1880. I first re-read Black Reconstruction to consider the disavowed role of land dispossession from Indigenous peoples. I argue that this is settler memory at work, which is the knowledge of but lack of political acknowledgement concerning Indigeneity and settler colonialism. I then consider Indigenous dispossession in relationship to Black dispossession after abolition, when the vision of Black freedmen receiving forty acres had a brief life that was soon undermined. I argue that what is going on at this time, and which is lost in the left-liberal memory of the “splendid failure” of Reconstruction, is a layering of dispossessions of Indigenous and Black people in order to secure a reunited white settler nation post-emancipation. These two dispossessions are not the same; the former turns Indigenous land into a possession as property as Robert Nichols notes, and the latter revokes the vision of an abolitionist-democracy by re-securing a white democracy grounded in privileged access for white people to non-precarious property that in many cases should have gone to newly freed Black people. However, both dispossessions are secured through non-state and state violence and law and they are both components of racial capitalism, which theorists such as Cedric Robinson, building upon Du Bois, mark as the globally resonant form of political economy that emerged after the abolition of slavery in the United States.