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Postcolonial Los Angeles: Police, Property, and Personhood

Authors: Ananya Roy*, University of California, Los Angeles
Topics: Urban Geography
Keywords: Housing, land, dispossession, property, postcolonial
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Legal scholars such as Jane Baron have defined homelessness as a problem not of poverty but instead of property. I examine this specific category of personhood – “no-property” – in relation to state-organized violence. Focusing on practices and policies of spatial illegalization in Los Angeles that consolidate norms of propertied citizenship, I build on my previous conceptualization of racial banishment to foreground the necropolitics being enacted on the unhoused. In particular, I am interested in what Nikhil Pal Singh has called the “whiteness of police.” Mobilizing a postcolonial understanding of Los Angeles, I interpret police power not simply as acts of policing and surveillance but also as legal reason and legal authority. Borrowing from Nicholas De Genova, such processes can be understood as the “legal production of illegality.” Such analysis resituates the housing question in the enduring histories of racial capitalism and shows the centrality of police power to the making of housing precarity and exclusion. Spatial illegalization is also a terrain of fierce struggle in Los Angeles. In the talk, I will highlight the work of social movements and community organizations challenging and contesting the erasure of unhoused personhood.

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