property


property
Property and property rights are central to capitalist societies. Perhaps because they are largely taken for granted in this context they have received relatively little attention from sociologists. By comparison, political philosophers and economists have debated the nature of property at length, and fiercely contested its origins (see, ‘The Concept of Property’, American Philosophical Quarterly, 1972, and , ‘Property Rights and Economic Theory’, Journal of Economic Literature, 1972).
Possibly the most influential modern explanation of the origins of private property is John Locke's theory of natural rights, which states that property ownership rests on the individual's rights to use whatever is in the natural environment and is deemed necessary for the satisfaction of needs, and the right to own whatever one has expended labour upon (provided it is not then wasted). Locke's theory thus provides three criteria for a naturally just distribution of property: namely, need (or possibly desire), expenditure of labour (which includes creative entrepreneurship), and use (which some have interpreted as exploitation and accumulation).
Since Locke's theory held that property was that which a man had ‘mixed his labour with’, it offered a potential challenge to the early-modern status quo (although Locke himself had set out to defend this), on the grounds that it implied it was neither natural nor just for the privileged few in society to enjoy the surplus created by the labour of the many. Utilitarianism met this challenge, with the argument that private property and its laws had no origins or justification other than utility : that is, the rules of property arise out of conventions which experience has shown to be the most useful for the promotion of human happiness. For example, David Hume considered the principal rules establishing title to property to be those of present possession, first possession, long possession, accession, and succession, and argued that the justice of these rules was rooted in the history of social experience. The present system was the ‘right’ system because it had clearly evolved in response to people's needs. Since this approach offered not only an explanation but also a justification for the existing distribution of property it became central to the philosophy of classical liberalism during the nineteenth century.
The conservative reaction to this philosophy of property opposed the principles of utility with those of tradition, experience, and stewardship. Conservatives conceived of property as a partnership between the generations, epitomized by the continuity of the landed estate, of which the landowner was a steward who served (rather than owned) the property, under the obligation of maintaining allegiance to the status quo and thus preserving a stable social order.
The Scottish political economists - John Millar , Adam Ferguson , and Adam Smith -extended the analysis of property relations to take account of class formation. This, in turn, encouraged Karl Marx to offer the first systematic sociological account of the importance of property, stressing the links between property ownership, political domination, and ideological representations. In Marx's formulation, property is power, and the different forms of property define the ‘social conditions of existence’ upon which rises the superstructure of the state , civil society , and ideology . Somewhat later, Max Weber also argued that ‘property and lack of property are … the basic characteristics of all class situations’, although he accepted that the propertied classes were highly differentiated in the types of property they held and the meaning which they gave to its utilization.
This last observation opens up the issue which dominates contemporary sociological discussions of property. These have moved away from considering ideologies of property and the social organization of propertied strata, and concentrated attention instead on the consumption of property, notably the diverse ways in which ownership of certain types of property (for example houses, cars, and clothes) shapes social relations and social meanings, and plays an important role in the construction of social identities .
Most sociologists have been concerned with private property. However, non-capitalist forms of property ownership (including possession of symbolic property) have been extensively studied by anthropologists, and sociologists have recently extended their analyses to include state or collective ownership, and inheritance. The best short introduction to the topic is Andrew Reeve's Property (1986). For a sociological case-study of the material and symbolic significance of property see, A Nation of Home Owners (1989). See also bourgeoisie ; collective consumption ; consumption, sociology of ; consumption sectors ; gift relationship ; kula ring ; privatization ; public good.

Dictionary of sociology. 2013.

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  • Property — is any physical or virtual entity that is owned by an individual. An owner of property has the right to consume, sell, mortgage, transfer and exchange his or her property.cite web|url=http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/property.html|titl… …   Wikipedia

  • property — prop·er·ty n pl ties [Anglo French propreté proprieté, from Latin proprietat proprietas, from proprius own, particular] 1: something (as an interest, money, or land) that is owned or possessed see also asset, estate, interest …   Law dictionary

  • Property — • The person who enjoys the full right to dispose of it insofar as is not forbidden by law Catholic Encyclopedia. Kevin Knight. 2006. Property     Property      …   Catholic encyclopedia

  • property — prop‧er‧ty [ˈprɒpəti ǁ ˈprɑːpər ] noun properties PLURALFORM 1. [uncountable] LAW all the things that someone owns: • Some of the stolen property was found in Mason s house. • The President supports a tax cut on profits from sales of property… …   Financial and business terms

  • Property — Prop er*ty, n.; pl. {Properties}. [OE. proprete, OF. propret[ e] property, F. propret[ e] neatness, cleanliness, propri[ e]t[ e] property, fr. L. proprietas. See {Proper}, a., and cf. {Propriety}.] [1913 Webster] 1. That which is proper to… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • property — c.1300, nature, quality, later possession (a sense rare before 17c.), from an Anglo Fr. modification of O.Fr. propriete (12c., Fr. propreté), from L. proprietatem (nom. proprietas) ownership, property, propriety, lit. special character (a loan… …   Etymology dictionary

  • property — Includes money, goods, things in action, land and every description of property, whether real or personal, legal or equitable, and whether situated in Canada or elsewhere, and includes obligations, easements and every description of estate,… …   Glossary of Bankruptcy

  • property — [präp′ər tē] n. pl. properties [ME proprete < OFr proprieté < L proprietas < proprius, one s own] 1. a) the right to possess, use, and dispose of something; ownership [property in land] b) something, as a piece of writing, in which… …   English World dictionary

  • Property — Prop er*ty, v. t. [1913 Webster] 1. To invest which properties, or qualities. [Obs.] Shak. [1913 Webster] 2. To make a property of; to appropriate. [Obs.] [1913 Webster] They have here propertied me. Shak. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • property — [n1] possessions, real estate acreage, acres, assets, belongings, buildings, capital, chattels, claim, dominion, effects, equity, estate, farm, freehold, goods, holdings, home, house, inheritance, land, means, ownership, plot, possessorship,… …   New thesaurus


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