Recombinant Racial Property Regimes in and after French Indochina

Authors: Erin Collins*, American University
Topics: Social Theory, Ethnicity and Race, Asia
Keywords: property, racialization, Phnom Penh
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/4/2019
Start / End Time: 1:10 PM / 2:50 PM
Room: Washington 2, Marriott, Exhibition Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

This paper examines the racialization and social sorting of diverse ethnic groups in French Indochina through a colonial logic that Bhandar distills as private property = civilization. Private property was, from its origins, racialized in the region. In 1915, Boudion published his report: “The system of land ownership in Indochina: what has been done and what should be done,” wherein he argued that dia bo ethnic-Chinese land tenure practices were the best model for a universal land rights law throughout the Indochinese Union, “conducive to economic development in France’s most lucrative colony.” Accordingly, other customary land regimes—including matrilineal and communal practices—were displaced and associated land claims erased. Likewise, in the 1930’s, eminent geographer Pierre Gourou seized upon the Han Vietnamese village organization and associated mode of production as evidence of a higher level of civilization. A racialized property logic sat at the core of Gourou’s tropical geography, which congealed racial essence, natural landscape, and mode of production into a form of governance and object of developmental intervention. This paper explores how these racialized property regimes and civilizational hierarchies traveled in time and space. It presents evidence of the transposition of ‘lessons learned’ to French colonies in North Africa as well as to the US military’s strategic hamlet programs in Southern Vietnam, and socialist property regime of the People's Republic of Kampuchea. The paper seeks to add a relational tracing of racialization to critical geographic and juridical studies of private property.

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