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Land, Law and Dispossession


  • Credit value: 30 credits at Level 7
  • Convenor: Sarah Keenan
  • Assessment: a 4000-word essay (100%)

Module description

This module introduces you to some of the major legal, political and theoretical issues associated with land, law and dispossession in England and in former British colonies. It aims to give you a historical and theoretical understanding of how and why land was enclosed and commodified, with an emphasis on the role of legal mechanisms used in the enclosure and commodification process.

You will learn about different theories of the origins of land markets, and critically consider how these theories account for those who are dispossessed through the marketisation of land. You will engage with methods from legal geography and critical race theory to analyse the relationship between land and colonialism, the role of land law reform in 'developing' countries, and the relationship between gentrification and homelessness.

In each area, you will consider how race and racism are reproduced through land markets and dispossession.

Indicative module content

  • The Idea of Property in Land and 'so-called primitive accumulation'
  • Accumulation by Dispossession? The Origins of Land Markets
  • Terra nullius and Settler Colonialism
  • The Northern Territory Intervention and Dispossesion through Leasehold
  • Law's Technologies of Dispossession: Registration, Privatisation and the Production of Hostile Space
  • Hernando de Soto's Mystery and Formalisation
  • The US Sub-Prime Mortgage Crisis
  • Gentrification, Squatting and Homelessness in London
  • Racism, Dispossession and the Sea

Learning objectives

By the end of this module, you will be able to:

  • demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the historical contexts in which land was enclosed in England
  • apply critical theories of property to analyse the English enclosures, and the relationship between land and colonialism
  • critically evaluate the effectiveness of land law reforms implemented in 'developing' countries
  • critically evaluate the relationship between the financial securitisation of land and earlier processes of enclosing and marketising land
  • critically evaluate the relationship between land, law and dispossession
  • demonstrate an ability to conduct research independently.