Faculty Spotlight: Campuswide Honors Seminar Instructor Professor Lee Cabatingan

The Campuswide Honors seminar, The Properties of Property, takes a deep dive into the concept of property with a goal to denaturalize and critique the private property regime that structures much of the world in which we live.

Professor Lee Cabatingan, J.D., Ph.D., Department of Criminology, Law and Society, teaches the honors seminar The Properties of Property, which she says is her favorite class to teach and is unique from other courses she instructs. She developed the syllabus for this course based on her ongoing research in Antigua and Barbuda, where she is looking at how Barbuda’s communal land ownership system is being challenged by those hoping to transform it into a private property system and how these challenges have picked up steam following a Category 5 hurricane in 2017. Professor Cabatingan approaches her research from the perspectives of both Anthropology and the Law, and employs this dual perspective in her teaching of The Properties of Property. She notes, “Inspired and energized by my research and my new found love for the concept of property, I thought I could use this course to help students develop a sociohistorical understanding of private property and reconsider what we think we know about how the world is organized — specifically, why many of us have come to accept private property as the only and best way to relate to land and other objects.” 

The seminar format of The Properties of Property has allowed Professor Cabatingan to organize the course much more like a graduate seminar including engaging discussions, readings, presentations, and final projects. She remarks, “The priority here is to learn and to (re)think our understanding of property and possibility.” As a class, through the readings, Professor Cabatingan nudges students to think about, for instance, the motivations behind private property in the United States and whether these are motivations that square with the students’ own values. “If they do, then that helps students to better understand and defend their own take on private property. If they don’t, then we try to explore, as a class, how change can happen and whether it is, in fact, feasible.” 

Professor Cabatingan has had numerous students report to her that they now walk around and see things like fences and signs quite differently. The Properties of Property has helped students to understand the “work” that these things are doing to maintain a system of private property and what underlies that system of private property. “This is exactly what I would hope this course could accomplish; I want students to really see the world in which they live and have the skills to question it deeply. Even the most familiar things (some might say boring things) like property, can be queried. And once we start asking questions, we can start understanding, and once we start understanding, we know whether, what, and how we might be able to make a change.”

Professor Cabatingan shares her final thoughts about teaching CHC students in an honors seminar: “Honors students constantly impress me! They are eager learners and contributors with open minds and vast capabilities. I truly enjoy the vigorous discussions we are able to have in a seminar-sized class, and I especially love the presentation of the final projects for the course which showcase a wide breadth of skills and knowledge.” 

Professor Cabatingan says the UCI Criminology, Law, and Society department is her ideal home. “I am able to regularly interact with other faculty and students whose work might touch on issues that are similar to those that I study, but who approach these topics from different disciplinary backgrounds, making for enriching conversations and ongoing learning.” In regards to her research interests, Professor Cabatingan notes that the odd combination of law and anthropology have quite a long history together. She remarks, “Anthropologists, for instance, have long been interested in the ways that rules and customs constitute and are constituted by different cultures and societies.” Outside of academia, Professor Cabatingan loves to hike in the mountains and has also recently taken up skiing. “So, if I’m not in Irvine or the Caribbean, you’re sure to find me at 6,000 feet or higher!” 

To learn more about The Properties of Property and other honors seminars, visit the Honors Seminar page.

Contributed by Angie Sarabia