Full text: Ownership as interpersonal dominance

The overall intention of this thesis is to reconfirm, re-assert and hopefully revive social 
psychological explanations of property and ownership. The focus of this thesis is thus not on 
the more personal, individualistic, materialistic relationships of owners to their property (e.g. 
Tournier, 1957; Wallendorf, Belk & Heisley, 1988), but on the interpersonal aspects of owning. 
As will be shown, this orientation is not new within psychology, and it is perhaps the norm 
within other of the social sciences. Consider Cairns’ (1935) legal science definition of 
The property relation is triadic: “A owns B against C”, where C represents all other 
individuals; if it is expressed in the form “A owns B” it does not convey, except by 
implication, the conception of a relation between individuals, which is the essence of legal 
theory. (Cairns, 1935, p. 59) 
This is not unlike Jordan's (1922) philosophical analysis of the possession of property: 
Control implies that | have the power (the right would imply the legal or conventional 
re-enforcement or limitation of the power) to modify or effect changes in the relations of a 
thing to other things or persons. The status of the other things or persons may be for me 
either conscious or unconscious, still | must take account of them in some way, otherwise 
I could not modify their relations. (Jordan, 1922, p. 374) 
This is restated again in terms of comparative ethnography and political economic theory by 
Bloch (1975): 
The relationship between property, kinship, and stratification is a familiar problem in 
evolutionary theories of society. On the one hand we have Rousseau’s amazingly bold 
insight that ‘inequality’ ‘only becomes stable and legitimate as a result of the establishment 
of property’ (1964, p. 193) and on the other we have the work of Morgan, which was such a 
seminal influence on Engels and Marx, where types of kinship system were seen as 
intimately associated with the type of property system and ultimately with the mode of 
production. Marx and Engels’s views were naturally hampered by the limitations of 
contemporary knowledge of pre-industrial societies, and the details of their scheme seem 
hardly worth criticizing. More important, however, is the clear realization throughout their 
work that property is represented by ideology as a relationship between people and things 
but is in material terms a social relationship....Maine (1861) had already shown with 
characteristic clarity how ancient law merged property relations and the law of persons and 
that it was only in ‘progressive’ society that property relations existed as such. Following 
such lawyers as Hohfeld [1919], [ethnographers] Gluckman (1 965) and Goody (1962) have 
also stressed that the notion of property as a relationship between a person and a thing is 
a contradiction in terms and that there can only be relationships between people. (Bloch, 
1975, p.204) 
The goal of the present thesis is to examine the interpersonal qualities of ownership by 
means of psychological methods. Although various interpersonal relationships are considered 
in this thesis, the general hypothesis around which the research is organized is that ownership 
reflects interpersonal dominance. That is, ownership is essentially the control of resources 
which are of actual or potential interest to more than one person, and it is through the control 
of resources that owners control other people and thus dominate them, intentionally or not. At

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