Wednesday 2 March 2011

Property as 'process'

My previous post started to explore thinking around irrationality, sensuality, rationality and economics. What dawned on me as I was writing it was the idea that our concept of property needs to be characterised as a process, rather than an attribution of artefacts or social relations. I've been thinking more about this.

Property is a process that relates personal identity to material artefacts or people. In the realm of a distributed cognition model, this is not hard to visualise: certain artefacts may provide sensual stimuli which compensate for a process of maintaining viability and identity. In addition, such artefacts also contribute to communications which also contribute to the viability of individuals and the maintenance of identity. Our families are perhaps the most telling aspect of this process. Whilst loved ones are not strictly 'property', they provide both a sensual contribution and a communicative contribution to our identity to such an extent that the loss of a loved one is in a very fundamental way a loss of identity. It's not uncommon to hear of people saying "part of me died when he/she died".

Something similar happens with material artefacts I think. They contribute both sensual stimuli which balance identity processes and individual viability, as well as supporting communications. Many material artefacts also have a social hinterland... they were given by people who are important to us, or have deeper significance. This is all part of their sensual import. Our possession of 'memories' becomes tied to those artefacts with which we do our remembering. In this way, those artefacts become an important part of a 'property process'.

But Marxists might argue that property is theft... But I don't think you can steal a process. What they mean is that the process of identity can be threatened by others who seek to maintain their identity with the same artefacts, and thus rob others of those artefacts, and consequently rob them of part of their identity.

Interestingly, seeing property as process raises the questions as to ways in which property may be taken away without a person realising it. Derren Brown does this! (there's a famous clip of him taking the wallet and watch of passer's-by) The trick is to replace the sensual stimulation of the property artefact with some other sensual stimulation... Of course this only needs to be done in the moment of the removal of the property to prevent conflict. After the event, a person might realise the lack of the artefact, but is powerless to do anything about it, and is simply left feeling bereft. At a societal level, I think this is what is going on with the march of servitisation.

Which raises questions about justice and freedom. I have arrived at two simple definitions (which may be completely wrong!).
Freedom is a measure of the robustness of control of an individual over their identity.
Justice is a measure of robustness of control of processes of identity in a society.


Ονειρμός said...

''But Marxists might argue that property is theft''

You are wrong, that's exactly what Proudon is to be blamed for according Marx, since as Marx says, if you tell that the property is theft, then you postulate th institution of ''property'', which is the condition of theft!
I think you can find in Marx's ''Grundrisse'' some evidence that he has the tendency to regard the property as process.

Nice blog, especially your references about Luhmann. I found extremely helpful the connection with attractors.

A student from Greece.

Mark Johnson said...

Thank you for the correction - you're quite right of course! And I'm very grateful for the reference to the Grundrisse.

Ονειρμός said...

@Μark Johnson

As regards property as a process, check in Grundrisse the ''pre-capitalist economic formations''.

I am very interested in combining Deleuze and Luhmann (I love Hegel, too), from a marxist position. What Deleuze says in ''Difference and Repetition'' about Marx is exremely helpful.
Could you tell me, if you know, any paper/article/book about Deleuze-Luhmann or Luhmann-Hegel or Luhmann Marx, that is accessible via Internet?

Τhank you in advance, carry on your good job!