Privatization and Commodification
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Level: Graduate
Division: The New School for Social Research
Department: Politics
Course Number: GPOL 6378
Course Format: Seminar
Location: NYC campus
Permission Required: No
  • Social Sciences
  • Politics
In recent years, enclosure movements across the globe have transformed an unprecedented range of public goods and services into privately owned commodities. The ownership structures governing rights to these commodities appear increasingly complex and opaque. Meanwhile, laws and public consciousness have shifted, accommodating the privatization of institutions from armies to elementary schools. As processes of enclosure accelerate and expand in scope, the politics of property have become central to our understanding of not only traditional objects of ownership like land, but also places and things that some may be accustomed to seeing as beyond ownership, such as plant genomes or outer space. This course examines social, political, and economic processes by which the commons are made into objects to be owned and sold for private profit. During the semester, we discuss the theoretical and legal foundations of material and intellectual property in a variety of traditions; we analyze how and why people's understandings of what constitutes a commodity have changed and we consider historical examples of shifts in beliefs about what (or who) may be owned; we examine in contemporary and historical perspective conditions that make expropriation of the commons possible; and we trace pathways through which both contemporary enclosure movements and their opponents have transformed people's lives and local, national, and global politics. The empirical contexts for our explorations will vary as we place current local transformations in their global context. Our case studies may include mortgage securities and the foreclosure crisis in the United States; forest ownership and timber smuggling on the Russia-China border; the privatization of water tables in Mexico, Bolivia, Canada, India and elsewhere; and debates over the capture and copyright of biomaterial internationally, from genetically modified seeds to human DNA used in criminal trials.
Course Open to: Majors Only


Not open to Undergraduate students.