Across what is today called the “Global South,” the nineteenth century witnessed sweeping transformations in ownership regimes. With growing demand for raw materials to fuel industrialization in the "Global North," liberal elites advocated for exclusive dominium rights disentangled from social obligations as the most adequate tool for “improvement.” The history of nineteenth-century colonialism can thus be told as a continuation of earlier enclosure movements: as an elite attack on the commons and on their associated moral economies, with some ill-fated popular resistance. This workshop aims to complicate this model. By the late nineteenth century, exclusive dominium was far from being a settled legal category either doctrinally or in actual practice. In many societies, ownership remained plural, with elites and the popular sectors not necessarily mapping their interests onto a straightforward divide between “communal” and “private” property --concepts whose very definitions varied even in "the North." The panel takes property regimes--formal and informal, “customary” and “liberal”--as a lens for generating new concepts and scales of analysis for studying "the Global South." It also aims to place in conversation methodologies that have been pitted against each other. Political economic histories of capitalism have been criticized for not paying enough attention to subaltern politics that fissured seemingly immutable systems. At the same time, social histories have been challenged for being too narrow to explain systemic change. Pondering anew upon the conflicts between these two approaches through attention to property could bring to light new analytics for engaging with materiality.
The three papers of this second panel together aim to resituate the plantation form within the regimes of landed property that developed in the agrarian, extractive economies of the late nineteenth centuries. Each takes up a site in which the large-scale, export-oriented plantation has received pride of place as the emblematic site of an emergent agrarian capitalism. And each seeks to interrogate the privileged historiographical status of the plantation complex by situating it in relation to other property forms and other processes of accumulation that developed alongside it. The first paper examines the regimes of urban property and the practices of speculation that precipitated new experiences of financial crises and, with them, new practices of public protest and claims to urban space by women in fin-de-siècle Port-au-Prince. The second paper challenges conventional narratives about the operative class alliance of colonial rule in Egypt by examining the peasant smallholding as both a target of the British-ruled government’s productivist agenda and a new horizon for the investment of metropolitan mortgage capital. The last paper explores the impact of the commons on legal categories. She argues that the commons had both material-economic, as well as cultural reverberations over how Afro-descendants conceived of reputation-based socio-racial status, justice, and customary rights, with local judges often adjudicating casuistically.
The panel will likely draw scholars interested in legal history, comparative history, gender history, and histories of capitalism.