Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Digital Cities

Subtopia, Bryan Finoki's revelatory blog on military urbanism, features a thoughtful post on one artist's digitally manipulated photos from the favelas, or what Bryan calls Squatter Imaginaries. Join the discussion about the role of art in revealing/questioning/documenting social fractures.


mountaingrown said...

I'm so excited to have found your blog. I just finished Shadow Cities and enjoyed it very much. I'm a second year law student and our final for Property (worth 40% of our grade) is based entirely on your book. Still, I'm happy our Professor picked such an enlightening book. I believe he has worked with Hernando DeSoto, which makes his selection more surprising considering your differing views on the effects of land titling.

I do have a question for you. I came across an article from the Economic Growth Center at Yale University called, "Untitled: A Study of Formal and Informal Property Rights In Urban Ecuador" (April 1998). The authors' stance seems to echo your sentiments on land titling only being effective in limited circumstances but also seems to say the strengthening of informal property rights, "to the extent that they are non-transferable, may make it more difficult to engage in property transactions." Essentially because without title their rights cannot be conveyed to a buyer or reassert ownership.

I'm trying to reconcile the idea put forth in your book, about recognizing possession rather than the legal instrument, with the ability of squatters to aqcuire or transfer their property. In what you've encountered, excluding the corruption of fake titles, is it possible for the successful exchange of property without a formal process?

Regardless, thanks for giving me such an in-depth look into a world and topic that might not ever have been discussed in a law school Property class had you not written such a good book about it.


rn said...

Great question, mountaingrown.

I know that, in Rio's favelas, homes are bought and sold all the time. The same is true in the gecekondu communities of Turkey. Squatters do sometimes buy and sell homes in India, but I have to confess I know less about how common the process is there.

The point is this: there's nothing intrinsic to possession rights that makes them non-transferable. Indeed, there is an active market for possession rights and there are all sorts of informal agencies--like the one called Pasargada that I mention in my book--that deal in these kinds of non-title transactions.

What other books did you read for your course? And is the Economic Growth Center study on Ecuador available online?

mountaingrown said...

Thanks for your response! I just took my property final-all about your book-yesterday. It was hard! I'm trying not to blame you. :) I did write about Jorge's Pasargada to address transferability issues. Hopefully it was a coherent thought. Here's the link to the Yale article:

Throughout the course we read lots of law review articles including, Possession as the Origin of Property, Whiteness as Property, the Ambiguous Work of Natural Property Rights, Land Titling: A Mode of Privitization with the Potential to Deepen Democracy...etc. Also our text book and Property Stories (it was a lot of reading). I also found a helpful article called "What is Property? Putting the Pieces Back Together" by Adam Mossoff that follows a theory of integrated property rights that focuses more on the importance of possession rights rather than the right to exclude that our jurisprudence has centered on in past decades.

I hope you keep writing and exploring. However, my purchase of your next book entirely depends on my grade on your first one!

Thanks again.

rn said...

Thanks for thinking about these issues, mountaingrown.

I've recently been reading some works by Karl Polanyi. He came at this from an economic perspective and argued that the market system turned land and labor into fictitious commodities and thus reversed the important priority that society should have over business.

"Labor and land are no other than the human beings themselves of which every society consists and the natural surroundings in which it exists," he wrote. "To include them in the market mechanism means to subordinate the substance of society iself to the laws of the market." He added that "the end of the market society means in no way the absence of markets. These continue, in various fashions,...while ceasing altogether to be an organ of economic self-regulation."

By the way, I looked up the Yale U study, but only found an abstract at the link you kindly provided. Do you know if the entire study is available online?

Economy/society, rights/obligations: These are important issues. I hope you keep confronting them as you move on with your studies.

mountaingrown said...

Sorry about the link. This one should work out better:

Any ideas on how I can get ahold of some of Polanyi's work?

Do you do any speaking engagements around the country? Like say, in Minneapolis?

rn said...

Thanks for the link.

You might find Polanyi in your university library. His most famous work was "The Great Transformation" (published in the early 40s and reissued in 2002, I think, by Beacon Press--see I also like an unfinished work that he was engaged in before he died, called The Livelihood of Man.

As for me and speaking engagements: I made five public presentations at universities in Ohio and Indiana last month. I'll be speaking in Cambridge, Mass. early next year. If your professor, or a student group, wants to invite me, I'd be honored.