Denaturalizing Dispossession

Hart, Gillian. 2006. “Denaturalizing Dispossession: Critical Ethnography in the Age of Resurgent Imperialism,” Antipode 38(5): 977-1004.

Through empirically grounded examples and encompassing debates on resurgent imperialism and ongoing primitive accumulation, Gillian Hart offers theoretical and methodological suggestions for analyzing dispossession. She argues that Lefebvrian understandings of space matched with critical ethnographies along with methods of relational historical geographies—in her case, “relational comparison” between South Africa and East Asia—offers “vantage points for generating new understandings by illuminating power-laden processes of constitution, connection, and dis-connection, along with slippages, openings, and contradictions, and possibilities for alliance within and across different spatial scales” (982). This approach is meant to “denaturalize dispossession.”

She begins by tracing the ideological (spatial) contours of the “Pentagon’s New Map” penned by Thomas P.M. Barnett of the “functioning core” and the “non-integrating gap,” which presents the winners and self-inflicted losers of globalization. The map and the Iraq War it helps legitimize are “completely congruent with a neoliberal (and thus supposedly non-imperial) project of networking and more fully integrating the globe (Roberts, Secor, and Sparke 2003)” (980).

Critical conceptions of spatiality, Hart observes, forces out the interconnections and mutual constitutions that military strategists obfuscate in their bifurcated and compartmentalized views of the world—compartmentalizations that she sees problematically echoed by some post-colonial scholars.

Since Hart is primarily concerned with racialized dispossession in South Africa, she notes how the disentangling the relationalities between the co-production of colonies and metropoles serves to make “clear how colonial connections continue to account for what the likes of Thomas Barnett interpret as disconnection in the neocolonial/neoliberal period” (981). She notes the eerie echoes between Barnett’s conception of globalization and the smooth, decentered globe and “space of flows” (Castells) of Antonio Negri and Thomas Friedman, as pointed out by Matthew Sparke.

Drawing from Massimo De Angelis, the concept of primitive accumulation itself, argues Hart, allows for the illumination of connections by showing the interdependence between phenomenally different yet similar strategies of enclosure. This also recalls De Angelis’ contention of accumulation proper in one place leading to the primitive sort in another. David Harvey’s conception calls for broader, multiply scaled alliances in light of the different varieties of separation from the means of reproduction he details under “accumulation by dispossession,” which is Harvey’s term for the current incarnation of primitive accumulation caused by crises of overaccumulation.

But Hart contends, “There are, however, key differences between the ‘new enclosures’ formulation and Harvey’s analysis. Harvey foregrounds tendencies to overaccumulation, while De Angelis and others in the ‘new enclosures’ school place primary emphasis on working class struggles” For Harvey, she says, strategies of primitive accumulation are reactive, while for De Angelis they are “active constitutive forces” (983).

Accumulation through dispossession may be a useful first step in highlighting the depradations wrought by neoliberal forms of capital, but it needs to be infused with concrete understandings of specific histories, memories, meanings of dispossession. To be grasped as an ongoing process, dispossession also needs to be rendered historically and geographically specific, as well as interconnected—and these specificities and connections can do political as well as analytical work. (988)

Hart argues that when dispossession is understood by political agents as a force imbued with historical memories and meanings of racialized dispossession and redress, along with the conjunctural terrain sowed by the arrival of East Asian capitalists, diverse struggles can be “harnessed and redefined to support the formation of broadly based popular political alliances to press for social and economic justice” (991). In this way, struggles over the land question can link up with fights against the “cost recovery” schemes of privatized services as well as new articulations of race and class. “Reframing dispossession and redress in terms of a social wage and secure livelihood is also a way of re-articulating race and class” (992).

She concludes, “In practice, strategies that build on dispossession as an ongoing process must engage with specific local configurations of social forces and material conditions, but also extend out from there to connect with forces at play in regional, national, and transnational arenas” (992).

She finishes by critically examining conceptions of space and place; for the latter, she draws on Doreen Massey’s work and throughout the section posits the “analytical bite and political reach” of Lefebvre (994). Within this analysis, she makes another exposition and call to arms for critical ethnographic practice.


This entry was posted in Agriculture, Antonio Gramsci, David Harvey, Henri Lefebvre, Historical-Geographies, Land, Networks, Place, Post-Colonial, Primitive Accumulation, Race & Ethnicity, Scale, Spatiality. Bookmark the permalink.

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