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We humans organize ourselves on the land.  We do so in countless ways, through many forms of life, labor, belonging, and control.  Land constitutes one of the driving forces of our multilayered and entangled histories.  Whether we use it as a space to gather berries, graze sheep, cultivate crops, or build skyscrapers, land roots us to place and shapes our ongoing relations with the material and natural world.  At the same time, land is an ideological proposition, a product of human spatial imaginaries.  As such, its occupation, distribution, and use are subject to all of the virtues and vices, sagacity and sins, care and caprice of which humans are capable.  We fight wars for land, build empires for land, even dream of making new land in aqueous and alien worlds.  It is simultaneously one of the most ubiquitous aspects of our common heritage, and one of the most divisive features of the modern world.


This course examines land through inquiry-driven projects focused on actual sites, places, and terrain.  To build our framework, we consider land in a global and comparative context, across a wide range of ideologies, registers, and uses.  We review various theoretical approaches that will help us think about land, including Marxism, Feminism, Post-Colonialism, Blues Epistemology, Deep Ecology, Post-Humanism, Indigenous perspectives, Critical Cartography, and the Spatial Turn.  And we look at land in a wide range of conditions, from high value, spectacular, and intensively built up to ordinary, mundane, dross, toxic, wild, and fugitive.  Along the way we ask key questions.  Where do ideologies of land and land use come from?  What is the relationship between land, wealth, and power?  How does land come to be imagined as something divisible and owned, partible and legated?  What are the moral, ethical, and normative frameworks that govern public deliberations over land and property?    


With these questions in mind, the goal of the Land Lab is to produce new knowledge and understanding through the investigation of geolocatable ground.  We will examine urban land in the United States in the context of racial capitalism and environmental injustice, focusing on cities that have experienced substantial amounts of capital flight and disinvestment.  Students will form project teams to investigate vacant and abandoned properties, tracing them through multiple stages and histories of occupation, colonization, governance, subdivision, chains of ownership, public and private investments, shifting uses, disinvestment, ecological transformation, and efforts at reclamation.  Each class session will be broken into three modalities: discussion, presentation of ongoing work, and time devoted to in-class project development. The outcome will be a book of "parcel biographies" that weave together stories of land and people, richly illustrated with maps, photographs, and data visualization.

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