‘Squat or Rot’ Property Rights Seminar, Law School, University of Exeter, 27 March 2013

Squat or Rot[1]?  The Changing Architectures of Property, Land and Law

Property Rights Workshop, Law School, Exeter

Wednesday March 27 2013


                                                             “If you see a house, take it and let the law do its damnedest”

Dworkin, G. The Theory and Practice of Autonomy, Cambridge University Press, 1988, 13


This seminar has been put together at a timely juncture to interrogate the changing landscapes of property and law within legislation, within buildings, within history, within configurations of space and time, and to highlight the importance of questioning the shaky scaffolding of property rights as a whole.  Relations of property in land structure the way we organise and behave, the way we interact, understand and commodify our environment and its connection with ourselves and our communities.   According to Carl Schmitt in his now highly influential ‘Nomos of the Earth’, the earth is the mother of all law, thus “… [through] fences, enclosures, boundaries, walls, houses and other constructs […] the orders and orientations of human social life become apparent” (Schmitt, 1950: 42).


As of 1 September 2012, under Section 144 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, it became illegal in England and Wales to squat a residential building.  This is an appropriate reminder of the way in which notions of ownership and rights to property structure our lives, the ‘right to exclude’ as that which effects and affects those we leave outside.  Squatting, the occupation of buildings without the owner’s express permission, is a powerful example of the multi-dimensional ways in which property can be performed, reified and ordered.  There are strong traditions of autonomist and anarchist philosophies of direct housing that speak to communal uses of space, like squatting.  These are what Margaret Davies speaks of as ‘alternative or oppositional property narratives’ (Davies, 2007), those ways of understanding land, individual and communal sharing, as outside of any realm of positive law.  Squatting is as old as law, indeed using a Schmittean compass and the earth as reference, squatting and the act of usucapio underlies the very foundations of law itself.

Using the changes in squatting law, alongside anarchist narratives of squatting, social centres, direct housing, eviction, we hope to discuss the direction of property rights today in terms of the law of criminal trespass and adverse possession, aswell as architecture, genealogies of property, colonialism, territory, aesthetics and geography.  What does the potential wholesale removal of squatters’ rights mean to English property law, and what does the role of land registration have to play in this?  How can we learn from anarchist and autonomist understandings of communal living and can these ever work within the law positive?  Do we perform property and thus do we perform law?  How do we feel when we lose our homes?

This seminar is part of Exeter Law School’s theme of ‘Homelessness’ for the academic year 2012-13, shaping teaching, research and outreach activities for the year.  This event is supported by the ‘Spatial Responsibilities Research Group’, Geography, as part of an emerging collaboration between Geography/Law at the University of Exeter.

If you are interested in attending or more information, please contact Lucy Finchett-Maddock at L.C.Finchett-Maddock@exeter.ac.uk.


Professor James Devenney, Law School, University of Exeter

Debra Benita Shaw, School of Arts and Digital Industries, University of East London

Thanos Zartaloudis, Law School, University of Exeter

Sarah Keenan, School of Law, SOAS, University of London

Nathan Eisenstadt, School of Geographical Sciences, University of Bristol

ETC Dee, Centre for Sexual Dissidence, University of Sussex

Lucy Finchett-Maddock, Law School, University of Exeter


Davies, M. Property: Meanings, Histories,  Theories, Routledge, 2007

Dworkin, G. The Theory and Practice of Autonomy, Cambridge University Press, 1988

Schmitt, C. The Nomos of the Earth, Telos Press Publishing, 2006 [1950]

[1] Inspired by ‘Squat or Rot’ – please see: http://squatorrot.wordpress.com/.


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