Concepts of Property


Sharing is caring. This well-known phrase fittingly describes a development we have witnessed amongst the younger generations in recent years: sharing appears to have become more important than possessing: carsharing, on-demand music streaming services, joint usage of appliances. All of these are made possible by way of the latest forms of communication. Startup companies are being founded left and right, and many of them take advantage of this new lifestyle trend. This raises the question: are for-profit businesses such as the private taxi company Uber or the accommodation platform AirBnB still in some way connected to the idea of resource-efficient sharing? They certainly like to claim they are. Streaming services do not necessarily belong in this category either: after all, users are not sharing CDs or vinyl records, but each one pays separately for the usage of the data offered.

However, all of the above proves one thing: many people want to own less and minimalism is a new trend. What matters now is having enough possibilities of using the respective services. A study conducted by the financial advisory services network Deloitte in 2015 predicted that 55 % of the Swiss population would want to make use of the“sharing economy” in the following year of 2016. Does this mean the end of private property is near, just as the financial magazine Wallstreet Online provocatively asked? The U.S. American economist and sociologist Jeremy Rifkin believes that we will witness a drastic growth in collaborative commons in the next couple of decades and he claims that capitalism will have lost its dominant role by the middle of the 21st century.

How do we interpret property? As a starting point for subsequent research, we can consider property a concept which determines cultural values and defines both social relations as well as our place in the world. Hence, concepts of property play a crucial role in our lives and our economic systems. At the same time, these concepts are not universal, but they depend on the respective cultures. Our supposedly obvious idea of private property is by no means without any alternative, not even in our own culture. Let us use land ownership as an example.

According to the Jewish-Christian tradition, God says: “The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is mine and you reside in my land as foreigners and strangers.” (Lev. 25:23). The following verses then lay out the specific rules on how to apply this idea in everyday life. God has provided land for us to use, but it is not human property that we can use in whatever way we want.

We encounter similar ideas all over the planet. Small farmers in numerous parts of the world use their land cooperatively. What matters to them is that it provides all of the necessities of life. Which is why conflicts arise every single day whenever big companies or entire states purchase the land owned by these small farmers or other associations and thus take away any opportunity for them to continue living lives devoted to the common weal.

Cases such as these constitute a chance for researches to question our ideas of property and to compare them to other models of life. It also allows for the analysis of the resulting conflicts and of the influence globalization has on our lives. Will this “Sharing Economy” concept change our interaction with societies that still live according to long-established traditions? Or will the big “global players” remain immune to such seemingly leftist ideas? 

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