Society for Cultural Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
Why would seemingly bald acts of violence and dispossession demand a paper trail? Eras of speculation and dispossession characterize genealogies of California’s history—from Gold Rush settlers who enslaved Maidu and Miwok peoples to the unprecedented Wall Street bank seizures of homes after the 2008 mortgage crisis. During these moments of speculation and crisis, deeply contradictory discourses of property ownership amplify and entrench racialized, gendered, and class-based hierarchies, imprinting the landscape with violence. This paper shows how bureaucratic techniques play a critical role in naturalizing accumulation by dispossession. I explore how administrative paraphernalia—ledgers, deeds, contracts, receipts, record keeping, and accounting—rationalize an unruly reality of conquest and seizure by offering an aura of legitimacy where none can be conjured. Yet, I also emphasize how bureaucratic ephemera might highlight potential moments of contestation or even revolt, as power exercised through bureaucratic measures remains unstable, and unlikely to fully shore up criminal acts of dispossession.