America and Ownership: Territory, Slavery, Jubilee

DGfA | 69th Annual Meeting | 1-3 June 2023

The image was designed by Juliane Egner based on a 1784 map titled "Plat of Georgia land granted to William Few" from the Georgia Archives.

The multi-crisis situation of our times is accompanied by an increase of property asymmetries. The global financial crisis, struggles over fossil fuel extraction, and the Covid pandemic have further consolidated existing material inequalities. “America and Ownership” addresses this global condition, focusing in particular on the United States of America. Taken together, these events testify to the centrality of property—in housing, in land, in resources (public and private), in data—to the U.S. economy and national culture.

The blatancy of the material condition is matched by the academic inattention this phenomenon has generally received. Questions of ownershipits history of slavery and dispossession, its economic relevance, its effect on social conditions, on human culture, and on the non-human world, deserve more study. While property in land 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 and dependencies. Property by blood succession and inheritance has led to powerful dynastic formations and social privileges, while in certain social fields such as housing, property functions as a debt accelerator/stabilizer to the disadvantage of the financial underclass. The conviction that the non-human world may be owned and used has driven the planet into the probably worst environmental crisis ever. Finally, in the cultural sphere, individual security, consumer gratification, and digital membership are being promised in exchange for private data (humans’ most intimate property) made available to corporations and the security sector. Political movements—such as 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 local organizers are pleased to host a conference promising to make a significant contribution to discussing these questions. We Rostockers are especially delighted about our three gifted and inspired keynote speakers and the panelists on the Current Events Panel dedicated to exploring the ramifications of the theme in the world outside academia and in hemispheric perspective. Those seeking relief from such heavy questions are warmly invited to join the boat trip to Warnemünde on Friday and the buffet dinner after the award ceremony on Saturday.

Among the sponsors of this conference we would like to express particular thanks to the Schulze-Fielitz Stiftung Berlin and the U.S. Embassy for their generous support!

The conference will be held in presence, with hybrid options.

Welcome to Mecklenburg and to Rostock!

Gesa Mackenthun, Kylie Crane, Andrea Zittlau, Madeline Becker, Claire M Massey

Conference Program