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Disentangling Property, Making Space

Forthcoming: Performativity, space and politics; Rueben Rose-Redwood and Michael Glass, eds.

43 Pages Posted: 9 Sep 2012  

Nicholas Blomley

Simon Fraser University (SFU) - Department of Geography

Date Written: September 9, 2012


I draw from performativity theory in order to understand the process of surveying and its implication in the remaking of property and space in early modern England, drawing in particular on John Norden’s ‘The Surveyor’s Dialogue’ (1607, 1610, 1618). Early modern surveying, I argue, sought to perform property through a series of enrolments and alliances, hooking up “professionals”, paper, theodolites, Euclid, the eye, and so on. But such enrolments, entailing both objects and humans, are not a given, but were bedevilled by the social politics of professionalism, the slippages of the human/machine composite, and the multiplicity of discourses around land.

Crucially, the attempt is to re-perform property through a disentangling, a severing of property from local obligations and association and the attempted installation of a model of property as interchangeable, mobile and abstract. Most immediately, property is re-imagined as a geometric, calculable space. To say that this distorts the realities of property, or to characterize this as an “abstraction” is to misconceive the survey: it participates in a reformatting of property (and, in so doing, helps constitute the very divide between “representation” and “reality” that makes such critiques possible). The success with which this performance of property occurs can be assessed less by the verity of its representations than by the degree to which it is able to constitute a terrain within which its representations are truthful. But such a terrain is not a given, but has to be actively made.

Keywords: performativity, property, surveying, Norden, early modern England

Suggested Citation

Blomley, Nicholas, Disentangling Property, Making Space (September 9, 2012). Forthcoming: Performativity, space and politics; Rueben Rose-Redwood and Michael Glass, eds.. Available at SSRN:

Nicholas Blomley (Contact Author)

Simon Fraser University (SFU) - Department of Geography ( email )

Burnaby, British Columbia V5A 1S6

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