GSF Graduate Scholars Colloquium - The Unpropertied Individual
Speaker: Carolin Benack (English & GSF Certificat)
Respondent: Amanda Bennett (Literature & GSF Certificate)
RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org by Oct. 17 for advance reading materials
Title: The Unpropertied Individual: (Un)Realizing Property in African American Fiction Around 1900
Ever since the United States' legal inception, the Lockean understanding of property in the self--the ownership of one's body and labor that allows for the acquisition of possessions and wealth--has been a core component in the conceptualization of individuality. And yet, the conceptual stability of this propertied individual also relied on its Other: the enslaved. As property was inherently defined against Blackness, the abolition of slavery produced a crisis of the American individual. This chapter surveys African American fiction in the post-abolition US to trace the cultural and legal practices that continued to deny Black Americans their newly acquired property rights. Novels by Frances E.W. Harper, Sutton Griggs, Pauline Hopkins, and W.E.B. Du Bois not only discern the crucial role of race in the construction of individualism but also seek to articulate a new form of individuality: one that can assert itself, even as its claims to property remain tenuous.