Organized by:
Kean Birch (York University, Canada)
Callum Ward (KU Leuven, Belgium)
Christian Zeller (Universität Salzburg, Austria).

Unicorns stalk Silicon Valley (promising huge returns to investors), big pharma ramps up drug prices on the back of knowledge monopolies (buying back their shares with the profits), multinational corporations hide ‘their’ intellectual property in offshore shell companies (avoiding much-needed taxes), and governments turn the air we breathe into a financial asset (giving it away to polluters). Contemporary capitalism is different; it is increasingly dominated by forms of rentiership rather than entrepreneurship, by the extraction of economic rents rather than the creation of new products and services (Birch 2017a; Felli 2014; Sayer 2015; Swyngedouw, 2010; Ward & Aalbers, 2016). Economic rents can be defined as the value extracted from economic activity – broadly conceived – as the result of the ownership and control of a particular resource, primarily because of that resource’s inherent or constructed degree of productivity, scarcity, or quality. As geographers, it is necessary to unpack how we analyse and understand – theoretically, politically, and ethically – the diversity of modes of ownership and control of resources in contemporary capitalism, including sociotechnical platforms (e.g. Uber), business model sorcery (e.g. Google), prosumer productivity (e.g. Facebook), Big Data mining (e.g. consumption patterns), and financial warlockery (e.g. interchange fees). This unpacking opens up opportunities to return to some of the geographical classics (e.g. David Harvey, Neil Smith) on economic rent, as well as engage with more recent literatures pushing forward debate in this area (e.g. Andreucci et al. 2017; Birch 2017b, 2017c; Haila 2016; Langley & Leyshon 2016; Maurer 2017; Schwartz 2017; Slater 2017; Storper 2013; Tretter 2016; Ward & Aalbers, 2016; Zeller 2008).

In light of the apparent spread and prevalence of economic rents and rent-seeking in our economies and societies, this session’s aim is to understand the geographical dimensions of rentiership, defined as the practice and process of constructing economic rents and rent- seeking. This raises a number of questions we invite contributors to address (others are also welcome):
1. What are the intellectual histories of rentiership in human geography?
2. Are current conceptions of rentiership fit for purpose? Do we need to update them?
3. How does rentiership relate to geographical concepts like territory, place, space, and scale?
4. How are rentiers involved in the process of mobilizing various social goods as financial assets?
5. How do we take rent theory beyond land in order to analyze assets and resources like technoscientific knowledge, friendship and love, human bodies and living entities, etc.?
6. Does the concept of rentiership help us understand new sociotechnical configurations like social media platforms (e.g. Uber), business models (e.g. Google), Big Data, etc.?
7. What are the (geographical, biophysical, sociotechnical) materialities and/or technologies (accounting practices, legal assemblages, etc.) of rentiership?
8. What, if anything, is new about the prevalence of rentiership in contemporary capitalism? Do we need new analytical tools to understand it?

Abstract Submission
If you would like to participate in the session, please submit an abstract (250 words max) by 18 October 2017 to kean@yorku.ca, callum.ward@kuleuven.be, and christian.zeller@sbg.ac.at. If you would like to participate in other ways (e.g. discussant) then please feel free to contact us as well.

Please note: once you have submitted an abstract to us, you will also need to register AND submit an abstract on the AAG website. The AAG abstract deadline is 25 October 2017:



Andreucci, D. et al. (2017) “Value Grabbing”: A Political Ecology of Rent, Capitalism Nature Socialism, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10455752.2016.1278027
Birch, K. (2017a) Commentary: Towards a theory of rentiership, Dialogues in Human Geography 7(1): 109-111.
Birch, K. (2017b) Rethinking value in the bio-economy: Finance, assetization and the management of value, Science, Technology and Human Values 42(3): 460-490.
Birch, K. (2017c) A Research Agenda for Neoliberalism, Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.
Felli, R. (2014) On climate rent, Historical Materialism 22(3-4): 251-280.
Haila, A. (2016), Urban Land Rent, Chichester: Wiley Blackwell.
Langley, P. and A. Leyshon (2016), ‘Platform Capitalism: The Intermediation and Capitalisation of Digital Economic Circulation’, Finance and Society, early view.
Maurer, B. (2017) Value transfer and rent: Or, I didn’t realize my payment was your annuity, in K. Hart (ed.) Money in a Human Economy, Oxford: Berghahn.
Sayer, A. (2015) Why We Can’t Afford the Rich, Bristol: Polity Press.
Schwartz, H.M. (2017) Club goods, intellectual property rights, and profitability in the information economy, Business and Politics 19(2): 191-214.
Slater, T. (2017) Planetary rent gaps, Antipode 49: 114–137.
Storper, M. (2013) Keys to the City, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.
Swyngedouw, E. (2010) The Communist Hypothesis and Revolutionary Capitalisms: Exploring the Idea of Communist Geographies for the Twenty-first Century, Antipode 41(1): 298-319.
Tretter, E. (2016). Shadows of the Sunbelt City, Athens GA: University of Georgia Press.
Ward, C. and Aalbers, M. (2016) Virtual special issue editorial essay ‘The shitty rent business’: What’s the point of land rent theory?, Urban Studies 53(9): 1760–1783.
Zeller, C. (2008) From the gene to the globe: Extracting rents based on intellectual property monopolies, Review of International Political Economy 15(1): 86-115.