Property as a property

By Agency

Planet earth is going through severe ecological crises. Unfortunately, there is still too little attention paid to the extinction of life. Although civil disobedience is employed to put extinction on the political agenda, the relevance of extinction is still widly underestimated in the climate discourse, yet will become increasingly important in the coming years in handling the conditions of our planet.

The loss of the diversity of living beings on this planet is taking place not only in terms of biodiversity but also in terms of the diversity of practices, so there is also an extinction happening in terms of methods. The Indian researcher Vadana Shiva speaks of Monocultures of the mind. Many situated practices on this planet are threatened with extinction, leading to a mindset of ‘there is no alternative’ instead of ‘there is an alternative’. This loss has alarming consequences because local practices are often more sustainable and resilient.

How to prevent more practices from going? Often that problem is translated as a problem of representation. The separation of people and things is the basis of the current European legal system. To give non-humans rights, it is assumed that we have to move them from the category of things to the category of persons. But the treatment of non-humans as persons is always through the representation of people. Are there ways to give rights to non-people without passing through the representation of humans?

The modern, colonial concept of property as a possession, rather than land as a layered set of properties and potentialities, rests on the fundamental doctrine that there is a separation between culture and nature and consequently between: expressions and ideas, creations and facts, subjects and objects, humans and non-humans, originality and tradition, individuals and collectives, mind and body, etc.

According to legal researcher Sarah Vanuxem, pre-modern property law was rather a right of usufruct 1 as opposed to having to do with the ownership over something. The earlier approach refers more to an idea of commons and traces can be found in the French ancient civil right of “ecological services”. In her book Des Choses de la nature et de leurs droits, Sarah Vanuxem studies how in ecological services things are linked together or stay interconnected. So it’s about things having rights in relation to other things, such as, for example, the right of passage through land.

The “ecological services” here are imagined as the qualities or properties inherent to things. Such an approach views things rather as environments to inhabit or dwell in. Property is viewed in ancient French civil law as ecological properties and the right to use it without altering it or endangering it.

The ecological crises of this planet have renewed a growing interest in the interconnectedness and situated environments that beings depend upon. Every environment has different properties or characteristics. Living in an environment means mutually adapting to its properties. This renewed attention to the ‘properties’ of an environment contrasts sharply with the current definition of ‘property’ in law as exclusive ownership over. The actual modern European ‘property’ notion, as ownership over, is growing further away from the notion of ‘properties’ of a situated ecology.

In relation to the extinction of practices, this also involves intellectual property law. The standardisation of copyright law worldwide is a direct consequence of the globalisation of capitalism. Since 1995, with the creation of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), Trade related Intellectual Property Agreement (TRIPS) has been implemented internationally. All member states – currently 164 – agreed to adopt intellectual property rights into their national laws.

This standardisation has far-reaching consequences for many practices, including the arts. From then on, artistic practice in all these member states were placed under the regime of copyright law by default, whether artists wished it or not. This issue is playing out all over the world. Despite taking place on a planetary scale, it is felt in different ways depending on the environment in which a being finds itself. It differs locally. It is undergone differently for different practices. Hence the importance of highlighting diverse forms of locally differently situated forms of resistance.

The position of an ecological perspective does not want to exclude anything. This does not mean that one must take everything into account. This position does, however, affirm that one refuses the possibility of disqualifying anything as being part of an environment. It is the experience of various properties in the sense of characteristics, which makes the limitations. To nurture a diversity of practices means to avoid the further disappearance of practices as their mode of existence.


  • Ludocity: a huge database of pervasive games, street games and new sports - social forms of play that take place in public spaces, such as city streets, parks and public buildings.
  • TESA Collective: A board game-designing company with a focus on supporting and cultivating good causes. Can be commissioned to develop a game for your practice, institution, cause or organisation, or simply realise your design.
  • The CUNY Network of Games: A center for game based learning, that encourages game-based research, scholarship and teaching.
  • the Serious Games list: Compiled by the MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) OpenCourseware Database, is a list of online games for social change, most of which can be played online.
  • Molleindustria: An Italian game-design group who since 2003 has produced ‘artisanal remedies to the idiocy of mainstream entertainment’ in the form of short experimental games. Their products range from satirical business simulations to meditations on labor and alienation, from playable theories to agitprop games.

Care Manual

  1. Usufruct - noun, The right to enjoy the use and advantages of another’s property short of the destruction or waste of its substance.