Terra Economica: Waste and the Production of Enclosed Nature



Abstract:  This essay provides an analysis of the “dirty” history and geography of enclosure, as both an instance of primitive accumulation and a production of nature. Specifically, I reconsider the English enclosures as a struggle over the land-use designation of “waste”. Whereas both open fields and common waste lands were an essential and valuable part of the common right economy, advocates of enclosure came to see these same lands as wasted commons; lands that were potentially, but not yet, improved. This dialectic of waste and potential permeates the fabric of the nature produced through enclosure, which I name terra economica. Typically, this terrain has been understood as a passive repository of free resources, extending across absolute space. While such accounts consider the making of nature into a universal means of production, it is equally important to consider the ways in which nature is produced as a universal condition of production.