To Have and to Hold: The Meaning of Ownership in the United States

To Have and to Hold: The Meaning of Ownership in the United States

To Have and to Hold: The Meaning of Ownership in the United States

To Have and to Hold: The Meaning of Ownership in the United States

Synopsis

Dr. Neala Schleuning provides a wide-ranging interdisciplinary exploration of the idea of ownership. She focuses primarily on the transition in modes and meaning of ownership since the emergence of the Industrial Revolution. Her primary argument is that the experience of ownership has been one of enclosure, which in turn conflicts with the goals of democratic society. Topics include land ownership, private property in a capitalist society, and the changing nature of ownership in a consumer society. Psychological, political, and social expressions of owning are explored, including the relationship between objects and social status, the nature of human desire and its manipulation, ownership and freedom, and the making of community. Special emphasis is placed on the relationship between the idea of ownership and the control and manipulation of women.

Excerpt

In human history, ownership begins with the ownership of land. This chapter will explore a variety of landownership models: the independent, collective ownership of the "free" village; feudal land tenure practices; and the emergence of private property and individual landownership. My examples will be drawn primarily from the history of western cultures, and especially the European and English models which were exported to the Americas. Tenure patterns in other cultures will be examined where they provide insights or contrasting tenure models.

A variety of factors shape the particular tenure patterns that cultures adopt, such as the quality of land, population density, gender, political and religious beliefs, and patterns of political and social organization. Where the quality of land varies from one field to another, for example, an ownership pattern in which individual holdings are fragmented might be developed. This system, called the "scattered field" system, has been observed in all societies. It guaranteed that everyone would have both good and bad land, thus assuring everyone access to resources on an equal basis. High population density might result in rigidly controlled land use policies to ensure survival for everyone; low density might result in a high tolerance for inequality of holdings because most of the land is unused. in village societies gender often played a crucial role in determining access to land and/or ownership patterns. While men were most likely to hold positions of control and decision making, in many societies women played a more important role in maintaining family survival through their control of the agricultural economy and land use. Social, political, and religious factors also influenced landownership practices. Social reorganization in the wake of wars or revolution, increases in population or migrations of people, or agricultural or technological advances often disrupted traditional tenure patterns and necessitated new practices.

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