Legal scholar Brenna Bhandar gives the first in a series of four talks presented by the ICA in conjunction with Cameron Rowland’s exhibition 3 & 4 Will. IV c. 73
In her book Saltwater Slavery: A Middle Passage from Africa to American Diaspora, Stephanie E Smallwood writes that ‘so pressing was European anxiety and effort to manage the innumerable risks that attended the business of slaving that it is easy to confuse European interest in preserving life to prevent economic loss with positive concern for the captives’ human welfare.’ The effort involved in turning human beings into commodities was so totalising as to spill over into affective and psychic domains usually considered collateral to economic interests. This illusion of concern belies a radical alienation of responsibility for human life. How did legal forms of property ownership enable those involved in the transatlantic slave trade to dissociate themselves from the atrocities in which they were complicit?
In this talk, Brenna Bhandar considers the racial materialities of property laws forged through slavery and colonisation, which condition our present, and explores how the separation of legal interests provides an alibi for the actors complicit in the commodification of human life.
Brenna Bhandar is Reader in Law and Critical Theory at SOAS University of London, where her research addresses property law, indigenous land rights, and post-colonial and feminist legal theory. She is the author of Colonial Lives of Property: Law, Land and Racial Regimes of Ownership (Duke University Press, 2018). She is co-editor with Jon Goldberg-Hiller of Plastic Materialities: Politics, Legality and Metamorphosis in the Work of Catherine Malabou (Duke University Press, 2015) and, with Rafeef Ziadah, the forthcoming Revolutionary Feminisms: Conversations on Collective Action and Radical Thought (Verso, 2020).