Changing Conceptions of Property (seminar)

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For more past programming from the Folger Institute, please see the article Folger Institute scholarly programs archive.

This was a late-spring 2009 seminar led by Gordon J. Schochet and J.G.A. Pocock.

This seminar, one of the Center for the History of British Political Thought programs, examined the radically changing character of a fundamental concept in political and legal thought: property. Its shifting meanings in early modern Britain mirrored, and in many respects, drove, transformations of the emerging understanding of rights. Property originally indicated the right or title of a possessor to a thing possessed (with the possessor’s entitlement to legal protection and political membership). During the seventeenth century, however, property came to designate the thing possessed. Participants will examine the conceptual history of property, from real property in land to personal property in goods, capital, or credit, which increasingly defined the individual as a political agent with the capacity to act in society. Primary readings were drawn from the common law mind through Harrington and Locke to the Scottish Enlightenment and Adam Smith. Session topics included: the role of property in commerce and political economy; the social and legal agency of women as derived through property; and the use of property as a justification for its expropriation from indigenous peoples. Research projects addressed social conventions and practices influenced by changing discourses of property, cultural pressures under which those discourses changed, or varieties of discourse in which property figures. Invited faculty contributed their perspectives.

Directors: Gordon J. Schochet is a Professor of Political Science at Rutgers University. Founding co-editor of Hebraic Political Studies, he is the author of Patriarchalism in Political Thought (2nd ed., 1988). His Rights in Context: The Historical Construction of Moral and Legal Entitlements is forthcoming.

J.G.A. Pocock is Emeritus Professor of History at the Johns Hopkins University. Recent monographs include the four volumes of Barbarism and Religion (1999–2005) and The Discovery of Islands: Essays in British History (2005).