Full text: Ownership as interpersonal dominance

Property for Status 
in the history of the psychology of property and ownership, it was early recognized that 
property communicated and symbolized social power. Aristotle had explained this to be the 
result of inferences. Malebranche had described it as the result of the contagion of imagination. 
For most of those in the empiricist tradition, property and power were both motivated by 
self-interest. The display of one was associated with the presence of the other. However, it was 
not until the nineteenth century that theories of property as a symbol began to be developed in 
earnest. Four traditions seem to account for this. The first is that of social economics, the 
second is that of popular literature, the third is that of the social science of symbols, and the 
fourth that of territorial markers. 
According to Mason (1981), the social economic tradition of the symbolic use of property 
began with Locke when he noted in an economics manuscript on monetary value that 
consumptive utility could not explain the fact that high prices increased rather than decreased 
the attractiveness of fashionable goods used for the ostentatious display of wealth. Adam 
Smith elaborated this with arguments that ostentatious consumption was motivated by the 
desire to possess and display symbols of status in order to succeed in the struggle for prestige 
and power (Riesman, 1976). Furthermore, Smith saw ostentatious consumption as necessary 
to maintain social order and to motivate the poor to work hard. In the mid-nineteenth century, 
Rae (1834/1905) argued that vanity was the basis of luxury, which he defined as: 
...the expenditure occasioned by the passion of vanity...the mere desire for superiority 
over others, without reference to the merit of that superiority. (Rae, 1834/1905, in Mason, 
1981, p. 4) 
Marshall (1890/1964) revived the Aristotelian argument that, although it was natural to wish for 
social distinction through consumption, the display of wealth should better be directed toward 
public munificence and philanthropy. 
The crowning work within the social economic tradition is Veblen’s (1899/1912) Theory of 
the Leisure Class. Veblen (1898) used social evolutionary arguments based on comparative 
historical, ethnographic and sociological evidence to claim that ownership is a social 
convention, with little basis in biology or psychology. The attachment of possessions toa 
personality Is not property at all since these become an organic part of the person. 
Ownership is not a simple and instinctive notion that is naively included under the notion 
of productive effort on the one hand, nor under that of habitual use on the other. It is not 
something given to begin with, as an item of the isolated individual's mental furniture....it is 
a conventional fact and has to be learned....The tenure of property is a tenure of prowess,

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