The Interpretation of Ownership: Insights from Original Institutional Economics, Pragmatist Social Psychology and Psychoanalysis

Arturo Hermann


In this work we analyse the main interpretations of ownership in Original Institutional Economics (OIE) and their links with pragmatist psychology and psychoanalysis.

We consider Thorstein Veblen’s notion of ownership as a relation of possession of persons, and John R.Commons’s distinction between “corporeal” and “intangible” property, that marks the shift from a material possession of goods and arbitrary power over the workers to the development of human faculties in a more participatory environment. For space reasons we do not address other contributions developed both by the OIE and by the New Institutional Economics.

We then consider a number of contributions of pragmatist social psychology and psychoanalysis that, although not dealing directly with the notion of ownership, can cast light not only on the private and “material“ aspects of ownership but also on its collective and “relational aspects”.

The reason why we consider it useful to address different perspectives is that, as observed by the famous sociologist Karl Mannheim (1952), a landscape can be seen only from a determined perspective and without perspective there is no landscape. Hence, observing a landscape (or phenomenon) from different angles (or disciplines) can help to acquire a much clearer insight into the features of the various perspectives. And this is one of the main advantage of a pluralist approach to the study of economic and social phenomena, also aimed at overcoming the fragmentation so often present in social sciences. In this light, the interpretative theories that we address, however different in many respects, present notable complementarities, in the sense that the aspects more overlooked by some are more completely considered by the others. In our work, these different but complementary notions of ownership can help illuminate the manifold aspects of human relations, also with a view to provide a more tailored policy action for the solution of their more problematic aspects.

Published on 17th April, 2023, in Economic Thought Vol 11, No 1, 2023