Ξ September 3rd, 2008 | → 0 Comments | ∇ Uncategorized |

    Property relations in the knowledge economy: in search of anti-capitalist commons.

    Throughout the 20th century politics were determined by polarities of the cold war: it was a struggle between two conceptions of property relations, which shared important ideological assumptions. They both assumed a form of monism about property - that theirs was the one and only ideal property system. Moreover, each side also presented its views as being complemented only by the other's opposing view. Hence capitalists constructed communism as its only and misguided alternative and conversely communists constructed capitalism as the only and wrong alternative to their own views. The debate, then, in practice revolved around either central planning or private property within the market, both forms, obviously, embracing a centralised state. A capitalist state is understood as a minimal state that protects the right to private property, but otherwise disengages from regulation of production relations and distribution patterns of (social) goods, while a communist state plans affairs centrally. Characterised by their institutional hierarchies, controlled from the top down by a relatively small elite or vanguard, these ideologies have thus made debates about property bland by actively excluding other visions.


    "Property is persuasion" writes Carol Rose, a leading legal feminist scholar whose illuminating article I turn to in section 4, in conclusion to her collection of essays on "the History, Theory and Rhetoric of Ownership". We may interpret these conclusive remarks to suggest that human societies can be talked into any property form if the arguments are convincing enough or if the group advocating them has sufficient power to impose its will. Socially constructed, expressed in a variety of narratives contained in constitutions, case law and other legal institutions, property relations structure human life for better and worse.

    Rose often discusses particular instances where property relations institute spheres of collectivity, such as parks for meeting with others and she also suggests that the articulated impossibility of owning religious artifacts, res divini juris is a reflection of the Roman understanding of religion as a significant "social glue". In other words, property relations give form to social glue and hence we may say that the architecture of social organisation in a society is made up of the property relations that the society has been persuaded to accept, and so, additionally, we can say that the primary purpose of property is to structure relations in society. The configuration of property relations that we are persuaded to accept thus determine how well our society is glued together, and, as we shall see, some forms of property stick better than others. I conclude that property perpetuates itself: in a society where people own many things in common they condition themselves to practices of sharing and cooperating, while societies that decide to configure their property relations mainly as exclusive and private condition themselves to the processes of fragmentation that exclusion entails.

    Finally, we will also go beyond the idea that property and the (central, liberal) state are indivisible. By understanding property relations as potentially and often emergent practices, that is, as social and cultural relations that may become custom and in turn be articulated into property rights, we see that property forms can be culturally sustained without the state: an external, coercive authority is not the only way to organise collective action


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