Dispossession Is Not ‘Theft:’ A New Critique of Dispossession, from the 1690s


Aikaterini Gegisian, Third Person (Plural), Film Still, 2017-19.

Theories of dispossession are today often offered as answers to the question of why it is that a very few people own everything, while the rest have to work for those owners to stay alive. Under capitalism, so the answer often goes, exploited people have what they own stolen from them. When we look closely at particular scenes of dispossession from the era Marx named “so-called originary accumulation,” however, we find granular dynamics that are too complex to be described as the theft of land, labor, or bodies from the dispossessed by the dispossessors. This is not to say that such theft does not happen; rather, it is to say that the model of “theft” offers a limited understanding of how dispossession happens, and in turn fails to apprehend the political dynamism of responses to dispossession by the dispossessed. In his talk, David KAZANJIAN shows how cases of dispossession from 1690s offer subaltern, Afro-Indigenous theories of dispossession that conform neither to the contemporary“accumulation by dispossession” thesis nor to the current celebration of so-called“commoning.”

The event takes place in the context of the artistic investigation Third Person (Plural) (2017-19) by Aikaterini GEGISIAN and in cooperation with the Center for Inter-American Studies (ZIAS) of the University of Innsbruck.

The lecture will be held in English.

Aikaterini GEGISIAN is an artist of Greek-Armenian heritage who lives and works in the UK and Greece. Building on her contribution to the Armenian Pavilion, 56th Venice Biennale (2015 Golden Lion for best national participation), she has over the past two years developed a series of new commissions exploring the role of images in the construction of national and gendered identities, amongst others: Jewish Museum, Moscow; National Arts Museum of China, Beijing; Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art; BALTIC, Newcastle; Calvert 22 Foundation, London; Kunsthalle Osnabruck; DEPO, Istanbul; Yermilov Centre, Ukraine. During 2018 she was a Research Fellow at the Library of Congress, Washington DC. Gegisian was Büchsenhausen Fellow in 2018-2019.

David KAZANJIAN is Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of Pennsylvania and Co-Director of theTepoztlán Institute for Transnational History of the Americas. His areas of specialization are transnational American literary and historical studies through the nineteenth century, Latin American studies, political philosophy, continental philosophy, colonial discourse studies, and Armenian diaspora studies.
He is currently at work on two book-length projects. The first sets radical aesthetics in the contemporary Armenian diaspora against the diaspora’s melancholically nationalist understandings of genocide. The second finds anti-foundationalist critiques of dispossession in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth-century Afro-Indigenous Atlantic.


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