Full text: Ownership as interpersonal dominance

self. Further evidence might be the finding that property injury is deemed less serious an 
offense to a person than is personal injury (Elkind & Dabek, 1977; Henderson, Brody, Lane & 
Parra, 1982). 
Property has been related to the self in non-experimental social psychology as well. In the 
nineteenth century German sociological tradition, Toennies (1887/1957) distinguished between 
concrete possession in an interpersonal, organic community and abstract property in an 
impersonal, formalized society. Both were mechanisms of interpersonal control, the former 
through the possession of people in familiar relationships, the latter through contracts between 
legal beings. Durkheim (1950/1958), another European founder of sociology, argued that the 
essential characteristic of private property was the public assertion of exclusive possession. 
In the U.S., George Mead argued that the very abstractness of property as a relationship with all 
other human beings renders property inherently hostile: 
Abstractness is given to the social relation involved in property through associating it with 
hostility. Previously property was a concrete social relation. The abstract property relation 
came into marriage and slavery through bringing in the outsider, one who had no rights in 
the group, no personality that gave him or her a place in the group....Abstractness always 
carries with it a degree of hostility. The attitude of the possession of money is an attitude 
of hostility toward all the rest of mankind. (Mead, 1982, pp. 87-88) 
Non-hostile relations exist in familiar relationships and in intimate, symbolic, self-defining 
possession of special property (McCarthy, 1984). It would seem that these sociologists might 
argue that the process of self-definition through assertive possession in commercial, legalistic 
societies inherently leads to materialistic values. 
The self-centeredness of property is also evident in dispossession processes, which are 
often perceived as domination of the self by others. Goffman (1961) has graphically described 
the dispossession process characteristic of total institutions: 
One set of the individual's possessions has a special relation to the self. The individual 
ordinarily expects to exert some control over the guise in which he appears before others. 
For this he needs cosmetic and clothing supplies, tools for applying, arranging, and 
repairing them, and an accessible, secure place to store these supplies and tools....On 
admission to a total institution, however, the individual is likely to be stripped of his usual 
appearance and of the equipment and services by which he maintains it. thus suffering a 
personal defacement. (Goffman, 1961, p. 20) 
This concurs with Waites’ (1945) earlier finding of the importance of personal hygiene items as 
property. The relationship of personal property to the sense of self and self-potency is also 
evident in burglary victims’ reactions, even among those who did not encounter the violators in 
person. Property theft Is frequently compared to invasion and rape (Belk, 1987; McGuire, 1980; 
Rudmin, 1987a). One victim described it as a loss of power:

Note to user

Dear user,

In response to current developments in the web technology used by the Goobi viewer, the software no longer supports your browser.

Please use one of the following browsers to display this page correctly.

Thank you.