The Resilience of Property

Resilience is essential to the ability of property to face transforming social and environmental change. For centuries, property has responded to such change through a dialectical process that identifies emerging disciplinary perspectives and debates conflicting values and norms. This dialectic promotes the resilience of property, allowing it to adapt to changing conditions and needs. Today the mainstream economic theory dominating common law property is progressively being intertwined with constitutionally protected property, undermining its long-term resilience. The coupling of the economic vision of ordinary property with constitutional property embeds the assumptions, choices, and values of the economic theory into both realms of property without regard for property’s other relational planes.

A real-life theory of property—one based on a theory–practice link—sees the property landscape as a function of interactions among possible property arrangements and other perspective-based systems, including natural systems. Understanding property as a function of those relational planes is important to preserving its resilience. Research on the dynamics of change in social–ecological systems provides important insight into how institutions, like property, that manage resources can promote resilience. The mainstream economic theory lacks the openness and interdisciplinary inclusion needed to handle complex disturbances, ignoring conflicting perspectives and alternative visions that have played a significant role in the evolution of property. Often presented as involving either/or choices, the mainstream theory takes a singular perspective that overlooks important dialectical interactions. As subsystems of larger natural systems, complex societies need a resilient property system open to different perspectives and new knowledge if they are to handle the serious challenges of the future.

Article | View PDF | Appears in Volume 55, Issue 4

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