Infinitude: Ad Coelum and Beyond

Patricia Williams, 2017–2018 Radcliffe Institute Fellow

The claim to real property, understood as the “right to exclude,” is commonly thought of as extending horizontally across territory conceived as a flat plane. But legally, whoever owns a plot of land also owns a vertical interest in it—or a right to all that lies beneath that ground as well as to the air and sky above. This principle undergirds laws governing everything from mining law to water rights to the construction of skyscrapers. Recently, the "space" imagined by such jurisprudence has been vexed by the infinitely expansive economic imaginaries of cyberspace; by the largely unaccountable landscape of cryptocurrencies and nonfungible tokens; and by the whimsical colonial adventurism of monopoly-techno-kings. Fueled by powerfully seductive trans-humanist ideologies, the normative juridical constraints of the nation state are being rapidly displaced by technological reconfigurations of both private property and public geography. Plans for planetary and oceanic colonization have expanded in tandem with military advances, creating new ways to dwell in, delineate, and dominate the universe: whether on Mars, in Charter Cities, or by Seasteading. 

The present project would bring together scholars from a cross-section of disciplines to consider the social, legal, environmental, and expressive complications posed by powerful new conceptual architectures of ownership, symbolic power, typological assortment and incursive surveillance that direct what we see and that have come to regulate nearly aspect of our material and digital lives. Our gathering would center on mapping and retrieving governability from the non-transparent realm of what has too often eluded collective address as "ungovernable."