Cultivating the Soil: Use, Improvement and the Colonial Conditions of our Present
Cultivation would come to function, throughout the British colonial world, as a justification for the appropriation of indigenous lands. Narrowly defined by a political imaginary of private ownership and market exchange, cultivation was intimately tied to an ideology of improvement. The ideology of improvement bound together the twin ideas that land not cultivated was legitimately open for appropriation, and that its inhabitants required civilizational improvement so they too could enjoy the fruits of possessive individualism. This use of the concept of improvement to impose private property relations where they did not previously exist, in conjunction with a racial order of white supremacy, is captured by the term “racial regimes of ownership”. Indigenous lands, urban environments – designated as potentially ripe for appropriation – continue to be laid waste by modern forms of use that privilege extraction and exploitation at the expense of myriad forms of life, in a moment of intensified speculative accumulation that has land at its centre.
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