The Crisis of Ownership, the Demand for Experience, and the Future of Solidarity

Esther Choi
Ethnic Studies
UC San Diego

Within a liberal democratic framework, ownership—of self and property—is the basis through which one becomes legible as a subject. Postwar U.S. federal policies subsidized homeownership for an expanding white middle class, concretizing the relationship between race and property. As ownership ideals are brought into crisis with the Great Recession, what are emergent subjectivities through which people understand their stakes in the nation and economy? How do new logics either naturalize or challenge processes of racialized dispossession that structure individual proprietorship?

This project utilizes a combination of discourse analysis and ethnography to compare two contemporary frameworks of economic subjectivity, exploring how they unsettle logics of individual proprietorship yet diverge in relation to racial capitalism. First, it looks at the rise of the “experience economy,” a term from business fields to describe shifting “millennial” preferences from “things to experiences.” Second, it looks at the solidarity economy, which encapsulates a network of alternative economic practices that center collective ownership, equity, and sustainability over private profit.

This project focuses on California—primarily San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego—as a site idealized around leisure, innovation, and liberal multiculturalism yet suffering the nation’s most acute—and highly racialized—housing affordability crisis.