Full text: Ownership as interpersonal dominance

The primary goal of this thesis was to demonstrate that, psychologically, owning is not 
only a material relationship between an owner and the property owned, but also an 
interpersonal relationship between the owner and the non-owners. In particular, it was 
hypothesized that interpersonal dominance is psychologically a component of the concept of 
ownership. This hypothesis has been substantiated by four sources of evidence: 1) the 
historical record of psychological explanations of property, 2) a multi-cultural archival study, 3) 
a multi-sample psychological study, and 4) a cross-cultural field study. The convergence of 
evidence from these four sources will be briefly reviewed. 
The introductory history traced five psychological explanations of ownership from Greek 
antiquity to the present, and in each of these, interpersonal dominance was shown to have 
played a role. The very fact that dominance has been a part of different psychological 
explanations of property made by psychologists in different traditions of scholarship over an 
extended period of history gives credence to the hypothesis. To refresh that history and to 
highlight interpersonal dominance, each of the five explanatory traditions will be briefly 
The first explanation is that property is a part of the self. Although ancient Greeks such 
as Pythagoras, Plato, and Aristotle considered ownership to be a product of self-regard, it was 
not until the seventeenth century that the physiological psychologies of Malebranche 
{1674/1963) and Hobbes (1650/1839) explicitly based property on the passion of self-regard and 
superiority. This was transmitted and developed in the British empiricist and utilitarian 
traditions; for example, Stewart (1829) argued that the motive for owning was the power that 
comes with exclusive possession. William James (1890) secured the idea that property is an 
extension of the self, especially an assertive and ascendent self. From this came empirical 
research by Cooley (1902), Furby (1980), Levine (1983) and many others showing that the 
development of the self and of self-referent language is strongly facilitated by dominance 
conflicts over the possession of objects. Prelinger (1959) showed that the degree to which 
sbjects control others correlates with the psychological proximity of the objects to the self. 
The second historically extant explanation of property is that it is biologically innate, either 
as an instinct for hoarding and grasping or a species tendency for hierarchical social

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