Seminar: Claims/Property

August 21st, 2019

This seminar engages the complicated entanglements of property claims that cut across the social, racial, and ecological landscapes of the Mississippi Delta, as they pertain to the Anthropocene.

Making and Unmaking Property in the Anthropocene

Claims on property have embroiled the Mississippi region in a host of historic tensions and intractable legacies of violent injustice. This seminar engages the complicated entanglements of property claims that cut across the social, racial, and ecological landscapes of the Mississippi Delta, while connecting them to upriver struggles, as well as to the meaning of the Anthropocene itself.

The practices of controlling land and water inherent to property ownership are also tools of the Anthropocene, the effects of which intersect historical and contemporary conflicts over land and property down the length of the Mississippi. This is particularly true in the Delta, where flooding, intrusion, and efforts to reclaim land can’t be separated from the attachments, needs, and claims of specific communities. This seminar examines claims to land amid the shifting registers of property within an intertidal landscape, where fluid dynamics of river and tide literally undermine land through processes that necessitate constant engineering and vigilance.

Capital also exerts deterritorializing force on communities throughout the Delta as slow violence: real estate speculation triggers gentrification and displacement; petro-chemicals migrate into marginalized frontline bodies; ecosystems degrade. Such slippages between land, property, capital, and claims result in a contested ground where definitions and designations shift, impacted by tidal cycles of neoliberal governance; buffered by community organizing, agency, and resistance. In this destabilized environment, who claims care for particular lands, on what basis, and how? How do legacies of settler colonialism and slavery live on in property claims, conflicts, and contradictions? What role does (anthropogenic) environmental change play in casting property/ownership into a different light? Conversely, are there risks in moving “beyond” property when marginalized communities claim land as property in the face of dispossession? As with any effort to locate an “otherwise” in or to the present, who is empowered to do so is often unequal and how we ask questions is never innocent.

The seminar is structured around critical site visits in and around New Orleans that magnify contestations over the designation, control, or condition of land. It is informed by local researchers and activists, beginning with the Geographies of Black Displacement tour led by convener Shana M. griffin. This brings into view post-Katrina gentrification and black displacement; the paradox of real estate capital flooding into an area threatened by sea-level rise; a perspective aligning climate change, property, race, and class.

Subsequently, a field visit with the Pointe-au-Chien Indian Tribe (PACIT) will take the seminar about 75 miles southwest of New Orleans, deep in the bayous and swamplands of unclear and rapidly changing boundaries between land and water along the coast. Geneva Lebeouf, Christine Verdin, and PACIT members will guide an exploration down Island Road to the thin strip of land where the Isle de Jean Charles Band of the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw Tribe are facing the existential threat and urgency of sea-level rise that is causing them to consider the loaded possibility of relocating from their ancestral lands. Over a meal together, generously prepared by Tribal members at the PACIT Community Center, the region will be reflected together and experiences of rapid land loss, subsidence, the impacts of oil and gas industries, and strategies of adaptation to these changes in the landscape and frequent flooding events will be discussed.

These shifting landscapes of inundation and chemical trespass, as well as zones of multi-species inhabitation, serve as a provocation to (private) property’s political and economic organizing principle and to the liberal sense of self (“property in self”). The final session provides opportunity to develop imaginative scenarios and potential forms of resistance rooted in the nuances of situations observed.