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23 March 2022

India Institute academic releases new book about ownership in India

Kriti Kapila, Lecturer in Social Anthropology and Law, has released her latest book, ‘Nullius: The Anthropology of Ownership, Sovereignty, and the Law in India’.

Book cover of Nullius. Image of an old oil mill used to punish prisoners.

Nullius is an anthropological account of the troubled place of ownership and its consequences for social relations in India. The book provides a detailed study of three doctrinal paradigms where proprietary relations have been erased, denied, or misappropriated by the Indian state.

It examines three instantiations of negation, where the Indian state de facto adopted the doctrines of terra nullius (in the erasure of indigenous title), res nullius (in acquiring museum objects), and, controversially, corpus nullius (in denying ownership of one’s personhood in citizens’ data collected through biometric identification).

Nullius contends that even though property rights and ownership are a cornerstone of modern law, they are a spectral presence in the Indian case.

[It is] a far-reaching theoretical—and ethnographic—feat for anthropology at large. Animating the breadth of scholarship that animates it, this book sets free the concept of property to reconfigure some startling legacies of the dispossession implied. A profoundly original composition of multiple dispossessions transforms the concept: ‘property' is never going to be quite the same again.”

Marilyn Strathern, anthropologist and author of Relations: An Anthropological Account

The book is available open access through Hau Books. Print copies of Nullius are available from April and can be pre-ordered from the University of Chicago Press website.

In this story

Kriti Kapila

Lecturer in Social Anthropology and Law