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Making Private Property: Enclosure, Common Right and the Work of Hedges



Analyses of enclosure in late sixteenth and early seventeenth century England have tended to focus on the social work of representations, in particular estate maps. I depart from this emphasis, however, in my attempt to focus on the consequential and often contradictory role of material objects in producing enclosure. In particular, I emphasise the important work that hedges did, physically, symbolically and legally, in the dispossession of the commoner. Acting as an organic barbed wire, the hedge was increasingly put to work to protect the lands of the powerful. Disrupting the propertied spaces of the commoning economy, hedges were not surprisingly targeted by those who opposed privatisation. The hedge, as both a sign and material barrier, served complicated and sometimes opposing ends. It materialised private property's right to exclude, but thus came into conflict with common property's right not to be excluded. The hedge was both an edge to property and was itself property. Both the encloser and the commoner, however, had property interests in the hedge. If broken, the hedge could signal violence and riot, or the legitimate assertion of common right. The hedge served as an often formidable material barrier, yet this very materiality made it vulnerable to ‘breaking’ and ‘leveling’.



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