69th Annual Meeting of the DGfA/GAAS

June 1-3, 2023 | Rostock University

Deadline: October 1, 2022

America and Ownership: Territory, Slavery, Jubilee

Still suffering from the shattering economic effects of the global financial crisis triggered by US banks’ large-scale gambling in the real estate sector, America voted a real estate speculator to become its 45th president. One of Donald Trump’s many initiatives to realign property relations was to abolish protection for national parks and make public lands available for private resource ventures. The Covid-19 crisis further consolidated existing property asymmetries. Taken together, these events testify to the centrality of property – in housing, in land, in resources (public and private) – to the US economy and national culture. The asymmetrical distribution of property is matched by the academic inattention this phenomenon has received. Property – its history of slavery and dispossession, its economic relevance, its effect on social conditions, on human culture, and on the non-human world, deserves more study. Land property was and is the key to political power; property of humans was a key to economic and political success, and continues in the guise of unregulated labor conditions; property by blood succession and inheritance has led to powerful dynastic formations and social privileges; property works, especially in housing, as a debt accelerator/stabilizer to the disadvantage of the financial underclass (Mechele Dickerson, Nancy Swak); and, finally, the conviction that the non-human world may be owned and used functions as a precondition for the extractive economic practices of modern lifestyles. More recently, individual security and consumer gratification are being promised in exchange for intimate private data (property) to corporations and the security sector. Political movements – like Occupy, initiatives for a fairer distribution of housing, a cession of Indigenous dispossession, and a respectful and sustainable treatment of natural ecosystems – call for a critical reassessment of property culture in the United States.

The conference addresses the theme of “ownership” in these various historical and ongoing manifestations in the US, and in its cultural production. Panels and papers may address the history, as well as legal, political, literary and cultural manifestations, of the following (and additional) areas of inquiry:

  • The history, legal justification, and aesthetic representations of territorial dispossession
  • The history of real estate and property relations in urban and rural America; private vs. public land ownership
  • The history, legal justification, and aesthetic representations of slavery and slave-like labor
  • Housing, class, and race (ghettos, reservations, evictions, dispossession, gentrification)
  • The genealogy of the extraction economy and environmentalist discourses about ownership and the non-human world
  • Communal supply security and public ownership (“owning” basic human supplies: food, water, housing, health care, etc.)
  • The emergence of property regimes in the digital economy, the security state, and health regimes
  • The effects of property regimes on gender relations, reproduction, and family structures
  • The psychological and sociological effects of property regimes.

Panels and paper presenters are also encouraged to consider alternatives to the Euro-American property regimes that have contributed to many problems of the present. Literature and art have imagined alternatives, e.g. in the ancient idea of jubilee (the cyclical general redistribution of property/release of slaves) and the economic practice of co-ops and common ownership. Indigenous societies have developed concepts of ownership that differ from those introduced from Europe. Occupy, Fridays for Future and other organizations for political change evoke the ideas of an economy based on sharing, recycling and repair, and degrowth – important ideas that include alternative conceptions of property. Presenters are thus invited to reflect on conceptions of ownership for the future.

Proposals for 2-hour workshops need to include the name of one confirmed speaker. Workshops should allow for up to three more speakers to apply after the proposal has been accepted by the Advisory Board of the German Association for American Studies. If the workshop takes the form of a panel discussion, more speakers can be invited.

Please remember that workshops can only be organized by members of the German Association for American Studies (DGfA). Similarly, all speakers in these workshops have to be members of the DGfA by the time of the convention. This rule does not apply to members of EAAS/ASA sister organizations.

Please send all workshop proposals to: executive_director@dgfa.de. The deadline is October 1, 2022.