Subversive Property: Law and the Production of Spaces of Belonging (Hardback) book cover

Subversive Property

Law and the Production of Spaces of Belonging

By Sarah Keenan

© 2015 – Routledge

192 pages | 1 B/W Illus.

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Paperback: 9781138785892
pub: 2015-11-13
Hardback: 9781138013988
pub: 2014-07-31
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pub: 2014-08-13
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This book explores the relationship between space, subjectivity and property in order to invert conventional socio-legal understandings of property. Sarah Keenan demonstrates that new political possibilities for property may be unveiled by thinking about property in terms of space and belonging, rather than exclusion.

Drawing on feminist and critical race theory, this book shifts focus away from the propertied subject and on to the broader spaces in and through which the propertied subject is located. Using case studies, such as analyses of compulsory leases under Australia’s Northern Territory Intervention and lesbian asylum cases from a range of jurisdictions, Keenan argues that these spaces consist of networks of relations that revolve around belonging: not just belonging between subject and object, as property is traditionally understood, but also the less explored relation of belonging between the part and the whole.

This book therefore offers a conceptually useful way of analysing a wide range of socio-legal issues. It will be of relevance to those working in the area of property and legal geography, but also to those with more general interests in socio-legal studies, social and political theory, postcolonial studies, critical race studies and gender and sexuality studies.


"Subversive Property is a well researched, theoretically solid, and important addition to the scholarship of property. Sarah Keenan constructs her argument upon the firm foundation of her deep knowledge of land use policy, refugee law, legal geography, and philosophies of identity. Her brilliant insights wrench readers away from the conceptually-flat notion of property as a bounded resource over which individuals exercise a bundle of rights, and open multiple avenues for exploring the power and agency of those who exercise or, as the case may be, flout rights to property. By focusing our attention on action, she compels us to move beyond familiar, commonsensical explanations as to why certain people and behaviors belong in certain spaces while others do not." - Antipode: A Radical Journal of Geography (April 2016)

"Sarah Keenan is taking the fraught and obstreperous concept of property, and reinvents it in a convincing and even rousing way. This is not an easy task but Keenan takes to it meticulously, employing case studies, case law and theoretical concepts in order to show how the institution of property can unsettle hegemonic spatial distributions. The book is a rich tapestry of movements, bodies, spaces and legalities that reach beyond the purely physical without however ever stopping being solidly spatial. Keenan offers some very important lessons in this book, such as the elaboration of responsibility in terms of locality, the role of skin, gender and race for space, and the diasporic belonging, amongst others; but for me nothing is more seductive and fundamentally useful than Keenan’s description of how we all ‘take space with us’, donning it like a mantle that both defines us and is defined by us. Subversive Property is a treasure-trove of institutional subversion and political mobilisation." - Andreas Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos, University of Westminster

"Subversive Property is a conceptually rich book that ambitiously works to redraw the relationships between belonging, property and space. Itis tremendously inter-disciplinary, engaging with debates in geography, law and society, refugee and diasporic studies, and postcolonial feminism amongst others – always adding a new spin… Fundamentally, I think, what Sarah’s book does is to show us a way of re-imagining property that – from a left-wing perspective – widens our conceptual options. So property doesn’t simply signal an unequivocal structure of possession or control where the only radical thing left to do is to decide whether, and to what extent, property should be communalised or discarded. Instead, by delineating a diverse set of relations of belonging, property gets rendered far more ambivalent." - Davina Cooper, Kent Law School

"Sarah’s work does more than open up the debate: it challenges the foundation of a dominant legal narrative which says that there can be those who are always relegated to the realm of the dispossessed, and this is where it ends." - Emma Patchett, University of Münster

"On reading Sarah’s work, I felt myself to be living proof of the soul of her contentions… The beauty in Sarah’s book is that she not only convincingly and engagingly articulates her theory of subversive property, but in doing so she grapples with personal and political realities sensitively and insightfully." - Nadine El-Enany, Birkbeck School of Law

Open access "Book Discussion: Subversive Property" from feminists@law (vol. 4, no. 2, 2014) available here:

"Subversive Property is at the absolute cutting edge of theory about property and space. Sarah Keenan theorises property and space in a way that is intensely imaginative, as well as having significant explanatory power. Not only does she emphasise the dynamic qualities of space, she also connects subjects to space in a manner which is both compelling and creative. The book challenges both the simplistic image of a law which is drawn onto space, as well as the idea of a pre-existing subject who owns property. The field in which property-law-the subject-space operate is described through dynamic relationships and with an eye on the future rather than the past. The book is highly readable and I recommend it to everyone interested in property theory and ideas about space." - Margaret Davies, Flinders University

Table of Contents

Chapter One ‘Prossy Has Been Saved!’ A Sense Of Unease, A Lack Of Connection, A Spatial Turn, Chapter Two Law/Space/Belonging? Legal Geography And Its Discontents, Chapter Three From Positionality To Spatiality: Theorising Legal Geography And Finding Life In Space, Chapter Four Subversive Property: Reshaping Malleable Spaces Of Belonging, Chapter Five Homelands: Property And Belonging In Australia’s Northern Territory Intervention, Chapter Six Your Lesbian Property Please: Refugee Law And The Production Of Homonormative Landscapes, Chapter Seven Taking Space With You: Inheritance, Appropriation And Belonging Across Time And Space, Bibliography, Index

About the Author

Sarah Keenan is a Lecturer in Law at Birkbeck, University of London. She researches in the areas of feminist legal theory, critical race theory and property

About the Series

Social Justice

Within a broad geopolitical and intellectual landscape, this new, theoretically engaged, interdisciplinary series explores institutional and grassroots practices of social justice across a range of spatial scales. While the pursuit of social justice is as important as it has ever been, its character, conditions, values, and means of advancement are being radically questioned and rethought in the light of contemporary challenges and choices. Attuned to these varied and evolving contexts, Social Justice explores the complex conditions social justice politics confronts and inhabits – of crisis, shock, and erosion, as well as renewal and social invention, of change as well as continuity.

Foregrounding struggle, imagined alternatives and the embedding of new norms, the Social Justice series welcomes books which critically and normatively address the values underpinning new social politics, everyday forms of embodied practice, new dissident knowledges, and struggles to institutionalise change. In particular, the series seeks to explore state and non-state forms of organisation, analysing the different pathways through which social justice projects are put into practice, and the contests their practice generates. More generally, submissions are welcomed exploring the following themes:

• The changing politics of equality and social justice

• The establishment of alternative, organised sites and networks through which social and political experimentation take place

• The phenomenology of power, inequality and changing social relations

• Techniques of governance through which social change and equality agendas are advanced and institutionalised across different geographic scales

• Institutionalisation of new norms (through official and unofficial forms of institutionalisation) and struggles over them

• Practices of resistance, reversal, counter-hegemony and anti-normativity

• Changing values, practices, and the ways in which relations of inequality and difference are understood

Social Justice is intended as a critical interdisciplinary series, at the interface of law, social theory, politics and cultural studies. The series welcomes proposals that advance theoretical discussion about social justice, power, institutions, grass-roots practice and values/ ethics. Seeking to develop new conversations across different disciplines and fields, and working with wide-ranging methodologies, Social Justice seeks contributions that are open, engaging, and which speak to a wide, diverse academic audience across all areas of the law, social sciences and humanities.

For further information on the series, or to discuss a possible contribution, please contact the Series Editors at:

Davina Cooper, Kent Law School, University of Kent, Canterbury, Kent, CT2 7NZ, UK
Tel: +44 (1227) 824172

Sarah Lamble, School of Law, Birkbeck College, University of London, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HX
Tel: +44 (0)207 631 6017

Sarah Keenan, School of Law, Birkbeck College, University of London, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HX
Tel: +44 (0)207 631 6017


Learn more…

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
LAW / General
LAW / Gender & the Law
LAW / Property
LAW / Indigenous Peoples
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Human Geography
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Gender Studies