Customs, commons, property, and ecology: case studies from Oceania: special issue: human organization
Wagner, J & Haw, J (eds) 2007, Human Organization, vol. 66, no. 1, pp. 1-10.
In this introduction and the collection of papers that follows, common property theory is critiqued on the basis of its frequent conflation with customary property systems. Case studies from throughout the Island Pacific are used to demonstrate the many ways in which customary systems do not correspond to common property systems and to argue that the application of common property theory in such settings leads to distortion and misrepresentation. As an alternative, we propose an approach that stresses the idea of property as a set of social relations arising out of increasingly complex interactions of people and processes at local, national, and global scales. We also stress the close relation of property rights to the construction of personhood and social identity, and the futility of attempts to categorize property systems on the basis of simplistic distinctions among private, public, and common property domains. By way of a discussion of the Polynesian concept of fonua, we suggest that more carefully (and culturally) situated analyses are available to conceptualize customary property relations throughout Oceania. On the basis of the series of linked case studies that follow, we also attempt to summarize some of the more important trends occurring within customary systems throughout the Island Pacific and elsewhere in the context of increasingly globalized flows of people, money, and information.