Full text: Ownership as interpersonal dominance

Our lives are regulated to a remarkable extent by property. Where we go and what objects 
we use -almost everything we do- must be sensitive to individual property rights and social 
property norms. Disputes between individuals and between groups often revolve around 
conflicting property claims. The rules of ownership are codified in law, and major social 
institutions are in place to enforce and adjudicate those laws and to punish property violators. 
Our various religions address property as a moral issue and often endorse propertylessness as 
a prerequisite for certain levels of religious attainment. Internationally, many of the current 
political and military confrontations are disputes over ownership of territory, and the larger 
East-West confrontation is based in part on disagreements over social and political 
conceptualizations of property. Popular and academic discussions of property in these 
different contexts often make use of psychological levels of explanation, but typically without 
reference to psychological research. There is clearly a place for a more extensively developed 
and more widely available literature on the psychology of property and ownership. 
Certainly it would seem that thoughts, habits, emotions, and rules pertaining to the 
ownership of objects and other resources have a greater and more constant influence on 
human behavior than many of the more arcane topics that proliferate in psychology. As Drever 
(1917) noted when commenting on the relative lack of attention given to property, 
...few [topics] present difficulties of which the psychological solution is more interesting, 
and few play so prominent a part in the ordinary, everyday life of Man....the impulse to 
appropriate and possess is powerful in the adult, as in the child, in the civilized man, as In 
the savage. (Drever, 1917, pp. 187-188) 
Thorndike (1940) similarly made a call for an historically and culturally sensitive psychology of 
political economy. Although topics related to property have a recognized literature and are 
indexed in Psychological Abstracts (e.g. “altruism”, “hoarding”, “jealousy”, “materialism”, 
“personal space”, “poverty”, “privacy”, “selfishness”, “territoriality”, “theft”), the psychological 
literature on property per se is dispersed, and “property” has not been indexed in Psychological 
Abstracts since 1953. Perhaps psychologists have come to believe that the topic belongs to the 
more political of the social sciences. However, the social science literature on property is 
multidisciplinary, and psychology Is in fact represented (Rudmin, 1986a; Rudmin, Belk & Furby, 

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