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The Moral Economy and Political Ecology of Land Ownership

Alexander Mather, October 1999
Department of Geography, University of Aberdeen, Scotland

This paper was presented to the Land Reform in Scotland Conference organised by the School of Planning and Housing, Edinburgh College of Art/Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, 29th October 1999.

The contents of this paper are listed below.
Printer friendly versions of the paper are available here 52Kb doc, 36Kb pdf


bulletContrasting attitudes to land
bulletThe prevailing notion of (economic) justice
bulletWhat are the factors driving change?
bulletThe private and community dimensions of discordance
bulletThe political dimensions of environmental issues
bulletThe concept of sustainability offers a framework for integration
bulletAdding the moral dimension to the sustainability trilogy

For many centuries, there have been two main concepts of land in relation to its ownership. In the Bible, 1 Kings 21, we read of an encounter between Ahab and Naboth that illustrates a fundamental contrast in attitudes to land. Ahab, in coveting Naboth's vineyard, sees land simply as an object or commodity that can be bought and sold: ".. I will give thee the worth of it in money". But to Naboth, land is not just a tradable commodity: "The Lord forbid it me, that I should give the inheritance of my father unto thee". Land to Naboth was an inheritance over which he had stewardship and not something that could simply be bought and sold.

One view sees land simply as a commodity, as something that can be bought and sold just like any other object. The other view sees land as different and special, and as something that is regarded as heritage. The first view correlates with private ownership, whereas the second relates more to communal ownership - the notion that land is the common heritage of humankind.