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Law and Social Change: Race and the Politics of Property

Semester and Year SP 2018
Course Number IDSEM-UG1945
Section 001
Instructor Vasuki Nesiah
Days T
Time 6:20 PM - 9:00 PM
Units 2
Level U
Requirement   HUM


Course meets during the last seven weeks only, First Class: March 20; Last Class: May 1.


This two-unit course studies the discourses, practices and institutions activated by legal strategies for social change, with a particular focus on the terrain of property rights. From ownership of humans to ownership of land, from redlining to squatter’s rights, from homelessness to gentrification, property has been a central terrain for social justice struggles. In Coetzee's novel,  Waiting for the Barbarians , the magistrate says that "All creatures come into the world bringing with them the memory of justice. But we live in a world of laws." We will focus on that relationship between justice and law in unpacking the legal architecture of property in America as it has moved from slavery and colonization to contemporary struggles regarding housing security. Are we inextricably tethered to a 'possessive, individualist’ conception of property rights or can we imagine alternative approaches to property rights that ‘remember’ justice, nurture solidarities and challenge the housing vulnerabilities of subaltern communities? Can law produce unjust outcomes and yet appear legitimate? How does law help or hinder the reproduction of inequality? Can law be a vehicle for transformative social change? What are the challenges confronted by legal advocacy of the homeless, of renters and others facing housing precarity? How do different understandings of gender impact claims for property ownership? Through discussion of property law cases addressing injustices anchored in race and class, we will examine different understandings of the potential tensions and affinities between the rule of law and systematic injustices.


All Syllabi

Course Type

Interdisciplinary Seminars (IDSEM-UG)