Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Decolonising Property: Exploring Ethics, Land, and Time, through Housing Interventions in Contemporary Australia

Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Decolonising Property: Exploring Ethics, Land, and Time, through Housing Interventions in Contemporary Australia

Article excerpt

1 Introduction

"... because there is no neat split or separation of nature and culture in the world ... the concept of land-as-commodity fails to make sense. What is needed is nothing short of a paradigm shift."

... Graham (2011, page 7)

This paper draws on contemporary reflections on property, time and ethics, and ten years' experience with 'nonmainstream' Australian housing models. Its core argument is that contestation over access to and forms of property reflect contestation over--or negotiation shaped by--our understandings of time, place, society, and self. Property in Australia is a site of multifarious narratives, agenda, articulations, and interventions, including the imperatives and struggles of a nation emerging from the throes of colonisation.

Challenges to and rearrangements of property models and systems simultaneously reflect, trigger and resonate with the unsettlement of fundamental aspects of social organisation and belief, as property systems enact and shape our core understanding of humanity's place in the world. Formations and enactments of property within particular social circumstances reflect, enable, and reinforce particular relationships between humans, institutions, and the nonhuman, positioning some as more powerful or legitimate than others, in accordance with the sociocultural and economic paradigm as part of which the system of property law under consideration is formulated and maintained. Property forms, markets, and expectations are emergent, complex systems, thoroughly entangled in physical, sociocultural, and economic norms, ambitions, and behaviours. Indeed, these are inseparable: place, law, markets, behaviours, attitudes, and institutions are an emergent holus. This may be an immense relief for those desiring social and/or ecological justice, as it implies that many presumed forms and relationships may be open to reinterpretation and intervention. It may also be immensely worrying though, as this might mean that 'transitioning' to 'more sustainable' or 'just' forms is difficult to define and contingent on more things than can usually be counted on fingers and toes.

I am interested in whether an ethical engagement with diverse ontologies, dynamics, and possibilities of land and property might present both opportunities for new theoretical understandings of property and pathways for reconciliatory politics and practical models of flourishing through ethical engagement in the here and now as a process of radical citizenship. This exploratory paper offers a novel consideration of time, law, and property in a decolonising context to tease out core research themes that warrant further attention from scientists. It does this by presenting an overview of the relationships between time, property, and ethics in light of an ongoing obsession with sustainability and affordability in a recovering colony. A decolonising country such as Australia provides fertile ground for renegotiating understandings of time, self, and society, as fundamental components of socioecological organisation such as property regimes are reinterpreted in a context of multiple and diverse ontologies. To do this, the paper first explores work on property, time, and ethics, and second, provides vignettes of varying property iterations or reflections in Australia. These are not intended as discrete types--rather, they are used as examples of narratives of property, law, time, and place that provide ground for revealing the core themes of the paper. Lastly, the paper reflects on the implications of the discussion for considering politics in Western societies. This paper sits in the margins of theoretical explorations in social geography, cultural materialism, and philosophy. It proposes 'radical contextualist' explorations of understandings and enactments of time and relationships to place (after Howitt, 2011).

2 Property, time, and land

2.1 Modernist time and property

The dominant property form underpinning housing in many Western societies is private homeownership, supported by mortgages which, as ongoing global economic turmoil shows, are deeply embroiled in international financial markets and based on speculation on anticipated value gains. …

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