Private Property

My current research looks at whiteness, masculinity, and the intellectual history of private property from the seventeenth century onwards in the anglophone Atlantic world. I am studying what people imagine it means to live in a world where private property is dominant and their fears (and sometimes hopes) about living in a future world where private property has disappeared; and I am interested in the role of race and gender within such imaginary visions of private property.

In the propertied imagination, private property is a fragile thing, a socially positive institution beset by terrifying enemies. That threatened social chaos is the central unifying story of this book. The narrative of private property as a source of harmony and social stability had to be told and re-told precisely because of a simultaneously parallel narrative about the imminent disappearance of private property.

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Jacques Brownson with his wife, Doris, and his self-built home, Aurora, Illinois (1947)

This is a close reading of some of the dominant theorists of private property in the Anglophone world – Locke, Burke, Marx and Engels, Harry Truman, Thatcher – as well as more obscure figures like the pro-slavery ideologue George Fitzhugh and the 17th century Communist preacher Gerrard Winstanley.

Taken as a whole, all of these disparate figures provide a genealogy of ideas of private property within capitalist modernity and show how modern conceptions of private property always have racial and gendered logics operating within them.

The initial work for this project was funded by a two-year Postdoctoral Fellowship from the Irish Research Council/An Comhairle um Taighde in √Čirinn and the History Department at Trinity College Dublin.

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