From accumulation by dispossession to accumulation by reparations? Land, racial capitalism, and the contemporary reconstitution of white privilege

Authors: Melanie Sommerville*, Dept of Geography, UBC
Topics: Land Use, Indigenous Peoples, Agricultural Geography
Keywords: Race, land, capitalism, Canada, South Africa
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2019
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Embassy Room, Omni, East
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The historical and contemporary relationship between landed property and whiteness is central to theorizations of racial capitalism as well as racial liberalism. This paper places the discussion of land and race in a new register, examining how white privilege is sustained through contemporary land claims and land reform processes in Canada and South Africa. Implemented amid efforts to provide redress to racialized dispossession under colonialism, land claims and land reform programs purport to deliver reparative justice in part through economic empowerment. Yet such programs may facilitate new forms of racialized and colonial value extraction, resubstantiating white privilege. I examine the liberally-coded illiberalism that underlies this effect, also exploring the ways that market forces and tensions between individualist enterprise and collective disadvantage work to foreclose land programs’ emancipatory potential. I argue that in their current form, such programs risk becoming a site where racial capitalism can incorporate certain of its critiques – here about so-called racial ‘exclusion’– as new sites of accumulation. Although it does not remove the responsibility of critiquing liberal formulations from both inside and outside of liberalism, my work has both theoretical and methodological significance. Theoretically, it suggests a need to reach beyond critiques of white nationalist and ‘race-neutral’ interventions to consider how critical race conscious formulations – while absolutely necessary – may become coopted or yield unanticipated effects. Methodologically, my work highlights new sites for critical inquiry, stretching beyond land claims and land reform to larger questions involving reconciliation, affirmative action, economic empowerment and racial justic

Abstract Information

This abstract is already part of a session. View the session here.

To access contact information login