Located at the intersections of law and culture, The Politics of Private Property provides a fresh perspective on the functions of private property within U.S. cultural discourse by establishing a long historical arch from the early nineteenth to the twenty-first century. The study challenges the assumption of an unquestioned cultural consensus in the United States on the subject of individual property rights, instead mobilizing property as an analytical category to examine how social and political debates generate competing and contested claims to ownership. The property narratives arising out of political conflicts, the book suggests, serve to naturalize the unequal social and economic structures and legitimize the hegemonic order, which however remains to be shifting and subject to challenges. Analyzing the property narratives at the heart of the U.S. American self-conception, The Politics of Private Property addresses the gap between the ideal of the U.S. as a universal middle-class society, characterized by a wide diffusion of property ownership, and the actual social reality which is defined by unequal dissemination of wealth and race-based structures of exclusion.
Simone Knewitz is Senior Lecturer of North American Studies at the University of Bonn, Germany.
Chapter 1: Agrarian Justice: Land, Labor, and Early Nineteenth-Century Property Discourse
Chapter 2: “That Is Property Which the Law Declares to Be Property”: Debating Slavery in
Chapter 3: A Nation of Homeowners: The Transformation of Property in the Emerging
Chapter 4: Challenging the “Possessive Investment in Whiteness”: Black Power and Property
Discourse in the 1960s
Chapter 5: Creating an “Ownership Society”? The Rise of the Property Rights Movement
Conclusion: Contested Property Claims
“This amazingly wide-ranging book traces the discourse on property from the antebellum period to the Great Recession. Acutely aware of how the political and the cultural, the supposedly real and the openly fictional intersect, Simone Knewitz demonstrates that narratives of private property have always structured social relations in the United States and that they have frequently worked to maintain the status quo.”