Lauraleen R Ford
Focused, comparative examination of legal institutions.
A system of “property rights” is frequently presented by economists as being an essential underpinning of economic growth and public welfare in nation-states. As a result, one of the core reforms recommended for developing countries is to adopt a system of property rights. These recommendations often do not define or elaborate on the meaning of the property rights concept, but use implicit explanation by holding up the model of Anglo-American and Western European (“Western”) systems. The objective of this course will be to understand what “property” is. We will focus almost exclusively on the Western system because of the contemporary significance of this system, but we will seek to be mindful of other systems as well so that the definition we develop might have some hope for general applicability. In order to gain knowledge, we will adopt a historical and comparative approach, drawing on materials that have been central to the development of Western property theories and debates, starting with Ancient Greco-Roman theories and ending with contemporary theories of “intellectual property”. We will take the position that these materials cannot be adequately understood without an understanding of their social context, and thus we will seek to understand that social context in order to gain insight into the nature of property.
Student learning goals
General method of instruction
Throughout this course the overarching goal will be to develop a definition of property that can be defended on the basis of a reading of selected critical texts in the history of Western thought. In the process of developing his or her definition, it is hoped that each student will gain insight into the history of Western legal theory and be able to draw connections between ancient ideas of property and their manifestations in contemporary debates. Classroom time will be spent on a combination of (1) lecture, which will be designed to supplement and highlight critical concepts in the texts, and (2) Socratic dialog, which will be designed to help students articulate and defend the ideas they develop from the texts.
There are no prerequisites to success in the course, other than a desire to learn and a willingness to engage in discussion pertaining to the materials presented.
Class assignments and grading
Every week students will turn in a one-page essay (2-3 paragraphs, with the option of one "dropped" essay) containing a definition of property and a defense of that definition from the previous week’s materials. The final paper will be the culmination of these essays.
Grades will be assigned based on the following components: (1) class participation (25%), (2) weekly essays (35%), and (3) a final paper (40%).