The Biopolitical Commons: A Revised Theory of Urban Land in the Age of Biopolitical Production

William Conroy, “The Biopolitical Commons: A Revised Theory of Urban Land in the Age of Biopolitical Production,” Planning Theory 18, no. 4 (2019): 470-491.

The literature on biopolitical production largely presumes that contemporary capital is parasitic, enclosing and capturing value that is autonomously and collectively produced across the urban landscape. In contrast, this article suggests that in particular contexts, planners—acting largely as surrogates for urban real estate capital—play an active role in the production of the urban commons for the sake of future enclosure. Using contemporary Chicago as a point of reference, it argues that such commons are (generally) produced in locales of racialized “ontological devaluation”—in spaces that have historically borne the burden of racial capitalism’s expropriative dimension. Further still, this article develops a theoretical concept, the “biopolitical commons,” to name those spaces and practices that are produced for the sake of future racialized biopolitical accumulation—pulling together, in the process, research on biopolitical production and “abolition ecology.” Finally, this article concludes by posing a series of questions for future research on the biopolitical commons.

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Credit: David Schaper (NPR).