Habitat and Home

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Property systems participate in social–ecological ordering in numerous ways. Many, if not all, First Nations legal orders presume a place-based world view, in which land management systems are based on multiple intimate connections between people and specifc localities. In the precapitalist West, governance of place and people was also responsive to the history and physical characteristics of particular localities. But in the era of colonial capitalism, the dominance of law over nature has meant that property (and in particular private property) is understood in terms of an imposition of a human-made concept/practice onto the natural world; property law, regarded as other to nature, is imposed onto the physical world, rather than responding to it or being part of an extended set of relationships. Within the Western/European consciousness, law has been located on the side of meaning rather than matter. Within such a framework, property law acts upon an environment construed as ontologically other to law.
In this chapter, I look at the property–nature nexus from a socio-ecological perspective. Such an approach places law, and therefore property, within the extended network of relations comprising the life worlds of ecologically situated beings. In this explanation, any human system of property – in its practical and conceptual, legal and social dimensions – is part of and
engages with a complex social–ecological world (Pieraccini 2012; Davies, Godden, and Graham 2021). Understanding human beings and our systems as part of a socio-ecological network does not in any way minimise appreciation of our destructive habits. However, it does permit a clearer view of nonhuman agencies such as climate change and COVID-19.These are ‘natural’
responses to human interventions, through which humans in turn become objects of natural processes rather than the controllers of them.A socio-ecological frame also provides a paradigm for understanding human beings as situated within rather than separated from the rest of the Earth. If those of us inculcated with the myths of Western law are to promote change, we need to shift the bedrock upon which these myths are based (see Hekman 1999) – most importantly the nature–culture divide.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Routledge Handbook of Property, Law and Society
EditorsNicole Graham, Margaret Davies, Lee Godden
Place of PublicationAbingdon, Oxon; New York , NY
PublisherRoutledge, Taylor & Francis
Number of pages12
ISBN (Electronic)9781003139614
ISBN (Print)9780367688813, 9780367689186
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • property law
  • property-nature nexus
  • socio-ecological perspective


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