Theft Is Property!

Dispossession and Critical Theory

Book Pages: 248 Illustrations: Published: December 2019

Author: Robert Nichols

Native and Indigenous Studies, Politics > Political Theory, Theory and Philosophy > Marxism

Drawing on Indigenous peoples' struggles against settler colonialism, Theft Is Property! reconstructs the concept of dispossession as a means of explaining how shifting configurations of law, property, race, and rights have functioned as modes of governance, both historically and in the present. Through close analysis of arguments by Indigenous scholars and activists from the nineteenth century to the present, Robert Nichols argues that dispossession has come to name a unique recursive process whereby systematic theft is the mechanism by which property relations are generated. In so doing, Nichols also brings long-standing debates in anarchist, Black radical, feminist, Marxist, and postcolonial thought into direct conversation with the frequently overlooked intellectual contributions of Indigenous peoples.


Theft Is Property! is an intellectually riveting and necessary critical consideration of the genealogy of dispossession as it is used to different ends by Indigenous scholars and activists and within Marxist critiques of capitalism and labor. Its emphasis on the normativity of dispossession as a recursive theft into property formation that explains the structural formation of settler colonialism will be a central text in shaping discussions around why Indigenous critique matters beyond identity politics.” — Jodi A. Byrd, author of The Transit of Empire: Indigenous Critiques of Colonialism

“In this extraordinary work of political theory, Robert Nichols offers a wholesale revision of the conceptual problematic of dispossession in light of the history of settler colonialism and in a context of contemporary Indigenous resurgence. Through sustained engagements with critical race theory, Marxism, and feminism, Nichols forcefully reanimates the moral sense and political understanding of Indigenous dispossession as a recursive process by which proprietary claims of settlers have been constituted and Indigenous subjects simultaneously made bereft of something they never claimed to own—a transformation of theft into property. This profound and pathbreaking work will change the conversation across several fields.” — Nikhil Pal Singh, author of Race and America’s Long War

"Nichols’ book certainly adds to the scholarly literature about the subjects of property, dispossession, slavery, and the resistance of the various people affected to the injustices done to them. The book is timely: this is the right moment in history for such a book to appear. . . . The book is highly recommended." — John T. Sneed, International Social Science Review

"Theft is Property! will prove an important and influential book. It is an exemplary work of political theory, which makes its political and methodological arguments with exceptional clarity and precision. The dialogue Nichols stages, drawing from anarchism, Marxism, critical race theory, and feminism alongside Indigenous political thought, is sure to have a wide-ranging impact across multiple fields. Most significantly, Theft is Property! will prove a landmark text in studies of dispossession and counterdispossession, centering Indigenous scholarship and activism while elaborating a broader problematic that requires further attention and investigation." — Christopher Balcom, Contemporary Political Theory

"Nichols’s historically grounded text is essential reading for anyone seeking a broader critical understanding of dispossession at the intersection of contract law, land seizure, and class warfare." — Caitlin Simmons, Western American Literature

"With incredible precision, dexterity, and clarity, Theft is Property! leaves us with the diverse modalities of dispossession in relation to bodily integrity and selfhood as well as land and the nonhuman world—which far exceed the discrete parameters of property and territory." — Iyko Day, American Quarterly

"Theft is Property! is an act of expressive insurgency.… This is a complex and deeply layered book that will repay multiple readings." — Shane Chalmers, Theory & Event


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Price: $25.95
Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Robert Nichols is Associate Professor of Political Theory at the University of Minnesota and author of The World of Freedom: Heidegger, Foucault, and the Politics of Historical Ontology.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments  ix
Introduction  1
1. That Sole and Despotic Dominion  16
2. Marx, after the Feast  52
3. Indigenous Structural Critique  85
4. Dilemmas of Self-Ownership, Rituals of Antiwill  116
Conclusion  144
Notes  161
Bibliography  203
Index  225
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

Rights and licensing
Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-1-4780-0673-2 / Cloth ISBN: 978-1-4780-0608-4
Funding Information This book is freely available in an open access edition thanks to TOME (Toward an Open Monograph Ecosystem)—a collaboration of the Association of American Universities, the Association of University Presses, and the Association of Research Libraries—and the generous support of the University of Minnesota. Learn more at the TOME website, which can be found at the following web address: