Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Blomley on Land Surveying's Role in the Making of Property

BlomleyNick Blomley (Simon Fraser - Canada) has posted Disentangling Property, Making Space (Book Chapter) on SSRN. Here's the abstract:

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.

Steve Clowney


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Land transfers and purchases in the United States are conveyed by deed. The deed contains the Legal Description of the property to be transferred. This Legal Description is the guarantee of what you are buying. Plainly, the words on a page are what you buy. Most of the time this Legal Description is taken from another page, that was taken from another page, that may or may not have ever had an accurate survey done. As we all will attest to. Human error exist, typos, bad copies, poor surveys or lack thereof could doom the accurate portrayal of the property long before you ever came to make your purchase. Remember, your guarantee is not based on what is “currently on the ground”; it is based on the description that is contained in your deed.

Posted by: Derek Patterson | Oct 16, 2012 10:57:42 AM

I always tend to get excited when I see land surveying going on. You just know that something new is coming and it usually gives me something to look forward to. People were pretty surprised when a company called Disney started surveying the swamps of Florida. But once they found out Disney World was coming, a lot of people got really excited and property value really shot through the roof.

Posted by: Simon Adair | Jul 2, 2014 10:38:06 AM

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