What is an example of unfavorable possession

Possession and property: Open access to land, knowledge and culture?

Research report 2003 - Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology

Socialist and Post-Socialist Eurasia (Prof. Dr. Christopher Hann)
MPI for Social Anthropology, Halle / Saale

The research group "Possession and Property" at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology focuses primarily on the economically and socially disappointing results of the decollectivization process in the countryside in the post-socialist states. On a theoretical level, the group's work overcomes the dichotomy between private and collective property, which has traditionally characterized European notions of property and property and which continues to play an ideological role. Instead, the group makes use of an analytical model developed by colleagues in legal ethnology that emphasizes the plurality of ownership agreements and their multifunctionality. This model proves useful in studying property relations in all human societies, including those with "simpler" technologies. It can also be used in the field of intellectual property, for example when indigenous groups make claims to unique "cultural property". The most recent calls to make knowledge freely accessible refer to similar problems: The establishment of categorical property principles must always be supplemented by careful observation of institutions and practices.
The research team "Property Relations" of the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology has focused primarily on the both economically and socially disappointing outcomes of decollectivization processes in the postsocialist countryside. In terms of theory, the work moves beyond the dichotomy of private and collective property that has traditionally characterized European concepts of property and continues to play an ideological role. Instead, the group makes use of an analytic model, developed by colleagues in legal anthropology, which brings out the plurality of property arrangements and their multi-functionality. This model proves useful in analyzing the property relations of all human societies, including those with "simpler" technologies. It can also be applied in the field of intellectual property, for example when indigenous groups stake claims to unique "cultural property". Recent calls for scientific knowledge to be made available under "open access" raise similar issues: the enunciation of categorical principles of property must always be complemented by careful attention to institutions and practices.

Current discussion: The right to intellectual property in Germany 2004

In the "Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Scientific Knowledge" from 2003 [3] scientists are called upon to make the knowledge they have compiled freely accessible. Peter Gruss, President of the Max Planck Society, welcomed the principle of open access as the new "magic word" in the field of intellectual property rights. But social scientists associate the idea of ​​open access with rather fatal consequences, especially the "tragedy of the commons": If people, groups or states are free to overuse a jointly managed resource, then they usually do so too (overfishing of the Seas, global climate problem).

Of course, anthropologists can neither claim nor control the term "culture", and we must reckon with the fact that it is used imprecisely both in the sciences and in everyday life. While most scholars will probably sympathize with the appeal for a new "culture of openness" as called for in the context of the "Berlin Declaration", our current ethnological knowledge, however, requires a certain degree of caution. We know far more about property relations in human societies today than we did in the 19th century. People are able to create equitable social regulations. But we also know that systems of shared use and openness do not arise "naturally", but always depend on social institutions and sanctions, such as ostracism and ridicule by others.

All property systems documented by ethnologists also leave room for the claims of individuals and subgroups within society. Presumably, scientists in the Max Planck Society and elsewhere will also need to be certain that others are not unfairly appropriating the results of their work. Open access is therefore not a magic word. In practice we are always dealing with pluralism and mixed forms. Whether for post-socialist rural areas, for the "folklore" of indigenous groups or for scientific knowledge in the age of the Internet: The essential task for everyone is to identify not only the right mix of forms of ownership, but also the necessary complementary institutions are to apply this mixture.

Christopher Hann

The research team "Possession and Property" at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology is mainly concerned with the emergence of new rural property systems in the former socialist countries. This research started in 2000 and will be finished by the end of 2005.

Economically inspired theories of property rights, such as those developed in recent years in New Institutional Economics, have had a significant impact on the social sciences as a whole. However, these approaches tend to reduce the multifunctionality of property systems to cost-benefit analyzes. In addition, the data is mostly collected in the societies in which we ourselves live. These are countries with highly developed market economies. Ethnologists are repeatedly challenged to supplement or correct these perspectives.

The ethnological perspective

In ethnology, theoretical reflection and empirical research on the subject of property and property can be traced back to the 19th century. The evolutionist Lewis Henry Morgan (1818-1881), for example, also influenced the socialist theory of historical materialism. Accordingly, property was given central importance in the "real existing socialism" of the 20th century. Private property has been restricted and stigmatized. Collective ownership, on the other hand, was given corresponding privileges, for example when private land in the hands of agricultural cooperatives was merged at the village level. State property represented the highest form of socialization. That was how it was in Russian terminology Sovkhoz (state farm) theoretically a more developed form than that Collective farm (Cooperative or collective farm).

Most socialist societies were difficult to access for ethnological field researchers. Meanwhile, ethnological research on the subject of "property and property" flourished in the "tribal societies" of the late colonial empires. Many field researchers have questioned the dichotomy of collective and individual property that has long characterized European theories of property. In horticultural societies, the soil can be property of the king or chief (Chief) However, the actual allocation and access to land are usually determined by lower-ranking leaders such as the village chief. Uncultivated land is mostly seen as common property, which does not mean that it can be described as openly accessible.

Lewis Henry Morgan and Friedrich Engels (1820-1895) suggested that the societies that were furthest from our society in terms of technology and some other features formed a kind of "primitive communism". The ownership structure of these societies has only been examined more closely through ethnological field research in the last few decades. Current hunter-gatherer societies should not be used as models for the way of life of our prehistoric ancestors. Rather, they show that there can be radically alternative regulatory systems based, for example, on sharing mechanisms (sharing) based. Social institutions such as gambling and informal sanctions ensure that objects are shared with one another and circulate or do not even become an object of ownership. This enables a high degree of social egalitarianism to be maintained. While many key resources are openly accessible, these societies also allow the possibility of asserting exclusive rights. These rights are collective, for example when a watering hole is associated with a specific group. They are individual when devices or weapons are recognized as personal property, are available to the individual and can be inherited. Certain types of knowledge are often subject to strict access rules or are reserved for certain individuals or groups, for example the group of older men who have gone through a special process of initiation.

A multilayered ownership model

In short, even ownership systems of technologically "simpler" societies turn out to be complex. The juxtaposition of collective and individual property neither offers a satisfactory explanation for such societies, nor does it serve to understand the complexity of our societies, in which the juxtaposition continues to play an important ideological role. In order to overcome this ethnocentric dichotomy and to use property as a general term of comparison, the researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology in Halle have adopted a model developed by the legal anthropologists Franz and Keebet von Benda-Beckmann (head of the project group "Legal Pluralism" on Institute). The Benda-Beckmanns show a multi-layered model that differentiates in the categorical dimension between a cultural-ideological level and a level of legal regulation. What is emphasized on the ideological level, for example the "absolute" power of disposal or a close relationship to religion, will not necessarily correspond to the legal institutionalization of property. Concrete social relationships form a third level, while a fourth level comprises "property practices" that are interrelated with the social expressions of property on the other three levels. Complex hybrid forms are always to be expected in property practices. This model takes into account both the pluralism of different constructions of property and their multifunctionality.

Applying this model reveals the complexity of both the socialist property system and its successor system. In the first case it was not a question of a "property vacuum", nor was public property freely available to everyone. Yet there is a grain of truth in the many jokes about the vulnerability of socialist property to private appropriation: the inefficiency of the system accelerated the collapse of socialist governments. As for post-socialist regulations, the researchers have uncovered a reality very different from what proponents of "shock therapy" envisioned in the early 1990s. The enactment of privatization laws and their formal application have sometimes failed to create profitable economic conditions for family businesses. The rural population has paid a particularly high price for the transition: subsidies have been cut, jobs have been lost, coordination facilities have been closed. So there was always less or no more social security. In some places, including in Siberian communities, the researchers from Halle were able to recognize that the reforms, which were actually supposed to promote greater individualization of private property, have actually had the opposite effect. They strengthened older social norms of sharing and cooperation that served as coping strategies in conditions of insecurity.

In retrospect, it becomes clear that a change at the categorical level of the property system can only lead to the desired changes in property relationships and practices if further framework conditions are met. This is also shown by the experience with land law reforms in the so-called Third World. In the former socialist countries, the hurdles were enormous: from delays in the release of property papers to the new landowners, to deeper problems in creating new markets for land trade in an economic climate that was becoming increasingly unfavorable for agriculture .

The results were sobering - both in terms of economic efficiency and in terms of meeting social expectations. For example, in the Hungarian village of Tázlár, even peasants who were almost always anti-communist were disappointed by the consequences of the renewal of private property rights. Even within the small group of family businesses, the good feeling of being a private owner was a poor compensation for the deteriorating material living conditions. In many places the question also arose whether the destruction of the socialist institutions in the countryside would not also lead to the collapse of the "moral economy" has led.

The consequences of post-socialist property changes were strongly influenced by continuities at the first level identified by the Benda-Beckmanns, that is, the level of culture and ideology. The researchers were able to determine a difference between the Eastern European countries and most areas of the former USSR. In the former, decollectivization was generally welcomed. The previous owners (or more precisely: their children and grandchildren) accepted the return of their property, even if the vast majority of them hardly knew what to do with their new property and were grateful when a large successor to the socialist cooperative found themselves to take over their land farmed for them. In contrast, villagers in Russia have shown relatively little interest in becoming legal landowners, let alone real entrepreneurs. The shares were divided, but a "collectivist" consciousness seems to inhibit initiative there. Those who claim their shares back from the new cooperative face negative criticism in their community [1].

This contrast at the macro level is easy to explain if one keeps in mind that already in the generations before the mass collectivization of the 1930s (the obshchina or me) were much more pronounced in Russia than in other parts of Eastern Europe. In other words: the pattern that is reflected in the empirical projects in the post-socialist present can at least partially be explained with reference to the past. It seems more appropriate to undertake detailed analyzes of various variables throughout history than to attribute the observed differences to the variable "culture" alone.

In addition, many ethnologists today deal with controversial issues of "cultural property", especially in connection with "indigenous peoples". The indigenous population of a country often demands special rights based on the uniqueness of their culture, which the UN has granted them in various declarations, among other things. Members of the Siberia project group at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology have examined the latest developments in the Russian north and east. Erich Kasten [2] advocates one "open reservoir" of cultural knowledge in line with the "Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Scientific Knowledge" [3].