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Property rights revisited – are narratives the way forward?

Kevin Grecksch (Centre for Socio-Legal Studies, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK)
Jessica Holzhausen (Institute for History, Carl von Ossietzky University Oldenburg, Oldenburg, Germany)

International Journal of Law in the Built Environment

ISSN: 1756-1450

Article publication date: 10 July 2017




This paper aims to show how property rights predominantly shape discussions about the governance of natural resources and thereby neglect questions of (collective) identities and alternative solutions to govern natural resources. The purpose is to introduce narratives as an alternative approach to the discussion about the governance of natural resources.


Guided by the question of how we acquire property and what that tells us about our understanding of to whom natural resources belong to, the paper reviews the history of property rights by looking into property theories starting from Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Adam Smith, Immanuel Kant and Pierre-Joseph Proudhon. It then takes a closer look at The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) study and the Nagoya Protocol with regard to property rights. Second, the paper introduces the concept of narratives surrounding property rights in the past and present.


Property rights are a social concept dominant in the industrialised world. This has strong implications when looking at the way indigenous people look at natural resources. Mostly, property rights are unknown to them or alternative concepts exist. Yet, documents such as the Nagoya Protocol or the TEEB study presuppose an understanding of property rights originating in European property concepts. A narrative approach to property rights introduces new ideas and looks beyond legislation and policies at the stories people tell about property and natural resources, at property stereotypes and identities and what this might entail for future natural resource governance.


The paper fulfils a need to find alternative approaches to govern natural resources against the background of global environmental challenges.



Grecksch, K. and Holzhausen, J. (2017), "Property rights revisited – are narratives the way forward?", International Journal of Law in the Built Environment, Vol. 9 No. 2, pp. 94-107.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited

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