Rent, Rent-seeking, and Rentiership in Geographical Perspective (Part 2)

Type: Paper
Sponsor Groups: Economic Geography Specialty Group
Poster #:
Day: 4/13/2018
Start / End Time: 5:20 PM / 7:00 PM (Eastern Standard Time)
Room: Studio 8, Marriott, 2nd Floor
Organizers: Kean Birch, Callum Ward, Christian Zeller
Chairs: Callum Ward


Unicorns stalk Silicon Valley (promising huge returns to investors), big pharma ramps up drug prices on the back of knowledge monopolies (buying back their shares with the profits), multinational corporations hide ‘their’ intellectual property in offshore shell companies (avoiding much-needed taxes), and governments turn the air we breathe into a financial asset (giving it away to polluters). Contemporary capitalism is different; it is increasingly dominated by forms of rentiership rather than entrepreneurship, by the extraction of economic rents rather than the creation of new products and services (Birch 2017a; Felli 2014; Sayer 2015; Swyngedouw, 2010; Ward & Aalbers, 2016). Economic rents can be defined as the value extracted from economic activity – broadly conceived – as the result of the ownership and control of a particular resource, primarily because of that resource’s inherent or constructed degree of productivity, scarcity, or quality. As geographers, it is necessary to unpack how we analyse and understand – theoretically, politically, and ethically – the diversity of modes of ownership and control of resources in contemporary capitalism, including sociotechnical platforms (e.g. Uber), business model sorcery (e.g. Google), prosumer productivity (e.g. Facebook), Big Data mining (e.g. consumption patterns), and financial warlockery (e.g. interchange fees). This unpacking opens up opportunities to return to some of the geographical classics (e.g. David Harvey, Neil Smith) on economic rent, as well as engage with more recent literatures pushing forward debate in this area (e.g. Andreucci et al. 2017; Birch 2017b, 2017c; Haila 2016; Langley & Leyshon 2016; Maurer 2017; Schwartz 2017; Slater 2017; Storper 2013; Tretter 2016; Ward & Aalbers, 2016; Zeller 2008).

These issues raise a number of questions:

1. What are the intellectual histories of rentiership in human geography?
2. Are current conceptions of rentiership fit for purpose? Do we need to update them?
3. How does rentiership relate to geographical concepts like territory, place, space, and scale?
4. How are rentiers involved in the process of mobilizing various social goods as financial assets?
5. How do we take rent theory beyond land in order to analyze assets and resources like technoscientific knowledge, friendship and love, human bodies and living entities, etc.?
6. Does the concept of rentiership help us understand new sociotechnical configurations like social media platforms (e.g. Uber), business models (e.g. Google), Big Data, etc.?
7. What are the (geographical, biophysical, sociotechnical) materialities and/or technologies (accounting practices, legal assemblages, etc.) of rentiership?
8. What, if anything, is new about the prevalence of rentiership in contemporary capitalism? Do we need new analytical tools to understand it?


Type Details Minutes Start Time
Presenter Christian Zeller*, University of Salzburg, Dep. of Geography and Geology, Stagnation and searching new fields for accumulation in the global rentier regime 20 5:20 PM
Presenter Eliot Tretter*, University of Calgary, Knowledge-Rents and the Production of Space in the 21st Century 20 5:40 PM
Presenter Julian Hartman*, University of Arizona - Geography & Development, Information, Property, and Rent 20 6:00 PM
Presenter Nicolas Vergara Arribas*, Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, Fictitious property rights and the politics of simulation in the era of the Real Estate-Financial Complex 20 6:20 PM
Discussant Kelly Kay University of California, Los Angeles 20 6:40 PM

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