Antipode, the Journal of Radical Geography, has recently published Jesse Goldstein’s Terra Economica: Waste and the Production of Enclosed Nature.

Plan of a medieval manor, where “common pastures” were also referred to as wastelands. From William R. Shepherd, Historical Atlas, New York, Henry Holt and Company, 1923.

Plan of a medieval manor, where “common pastures” were also referred to as wastelands. From William R. Shepherd, Historical Atlas, New York, Henry Holt and Company, 1923.

Goldstein traces the historical flip of “wastelands” as common, open fields that were productive and essential to the well being of communities, to spaces seen as underutilized resources going to waste following the English enclosure movement in the fifteenth century. Goldstein’s summation of his essay: “In this essay, I hope to make two key observations: terra economica is a landscape of wasted potential, in which all of the world is potentially, or not yet, capital; the production of this enclosed nature entails a violence of erasure, forever supplementing capital’s expanded accumulation.
The first section contextualizes this inquiry in relation to accounts of primitive accumulation and the production of nature. The second then provides an account of the production of terra economica, focusing on the enclosure of the English countryside and in particular, the transformations in “waste” that accompanied this process. In the final section, I briefly return to theories of primitive accumulation and the production of nature to assess the implications of this analysis.”

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.