For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"Finding Possession: Labor, Waste, and the Evolution of Property"

by Fraley, Jill M (2011)


Although possession has long been intimately linked to labor, recent historical work on land claims during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries suggests that the clash of divergent legal cultures of possession drove the two apart. This clash yielded an American concept of possession much more deeply connected to industrialization than the traditional understanding of labor. By providing evidence of how our concept oflabor was industrialized, this article questions the outcomes in modem possession cases, particularly as they impact development and environmental preservation in rural areas.

Key Passage

When common law sources spoke more than a sentence or two about first possession, they inevitably moved more towards explaining a theory of labor than a literal theory of possession. Such theories of labor are generally now grounded in the Lockean view of property. Social philosopher John Locke viewed property as an institution of natural law, which arose without the intervention of the state (or even its existence) and stemmed from the direct investment of a person's labor. Locke's theory went hand-in-hand with the theory of first possession,so which of course was actually established through proving one's labor: the building and occupation of a dwelling, the planting of fields, the building of fences, the taming of animals, and so forth. (p.59)


Labor, Labor Theory, Land Claim, Sixteenth Century, Seventeenth Century, History Of Ideas, Locke, Possession, Waste, Property


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