Ownership: Persons, property, and community

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

2 Citations (Scopus)


We use the terms ‘person’ and ‘property’ in our everyday lives quite happily, without needing to give them a technical meaning. On the whole, we seem to know what the words mean and how to use them.
Lawyers also use these terms routinely and in the quite ordinary course of events. Like many legal concepts, however, they suffer from much ambiguity: both the objects to which they refer and their underlying concepts are uncertain, and are often the subject of political controversy. Indeed, in both cases, it is doubtful whether an ‘underlying legal concept’ even exists, such is the difficulty of defining them clearly.
The problem is amplified because the everyday usages of the terms ‘persons’ and ‘property’ are sometimes at odds with legal definitions – although in this these two words are hardly unique. Having said that, law is embedded in social practice and the distinction between the legal and the non-legal is a convenient fiction, maintained by law. In consequence, there is often both cross-fertilisation of ‘legal’ and ‘everyday’ meanings, as well as a certain productive tension between them.
In this chapter, I first introduce some of the difficulties with the concepts of persons and property, what they refer to, and how they are used. Secondly, I explain what I see as the relationship between these two ideas – the fact that in conventional legal thinking, they are supposed to be diametrically opposed, mutually exclusive, but in fact they are inextricably linked. The first two parts draw on existing literatures, but in the third part, I go in a new direction: I try to capture new ways of thinking about property which loosen the property-person nexus without breaking it altogether. These new approaches introduce values associated with community, the environment, and our material futures into the analysis of persons and property.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationRoutledge Handbook of Law and Society
EditorsMariana Valverde, Kamari Clarke, Eve Darian-Smith, Prabha Kotiswaran
PublisherRoutledge, Taylor & Francis
Number of pages6
ISBN (Electronic)978-0-429-29330-6
ISBN (Print)978-0-367-23424-9, 978-0-367-69468-5
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • underlying legal concept
  • everyday usages
  • ownership
  • property-person nexus
  • analysis of persons and property


Dive into the research topics of 'Ownership: Persons, property, and community'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this