Critical Reflections on Human Rights and the Environment series
In the context of critical reflections upon the relationship between human rights and the environment, it is difficult to imagine many themes more central to the human–environmental nexus than that of ‘ownership’. Lying at the heart of the widely impugned subject–object relations that set up the human as ‘master’ (and ‘owner’) of the earth and its living order, the notion of ownership raises a profoundly natural–cultural (in the rich sense evoked by Haraway) knot of puzzles and dilemmas. The impulse towards forms of what we can broadly think of as ‘ownership’ is, at one level, deeply ‘natural’. Such impulses can be read, for example, in the struggle within and between various non-human animal species for territory, burrows, warmth and food. Humans have, of course, turned ‘ownership’ impulses into something more complex and institutionalised. The human institution of ownership has long formed a contested theme in political and legal theory, and ‘ownership’ has often featured in fraught questions of intra-and inter-species justice. Some humans have even deployed notions of ‘ownership’ (and closely related justifications drawing upon a ‘natural’ entitlement to ‘property’) as a legitimation for historical and contemporary practices of dispossession.