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

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

We conclude the work by highlighting how 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.

Posted for comments on 30 Apr 2021, 9:49 am.

Comments (3)

  • Ioannis Katselidis says:

    This work seeks to analyze the main interpretations of ownership in early Institutional Economics (Veblen and Commons) and their links with social psychology and psychoanalysis. However, I think that these links have been presented and examined somewhat superficially. Some comments and suggestions follow.
    The paper starts with the “Veblen’s Concept of Ownership”. I think that the author should add an introductory section before proceeds to Veblen’s analysis.
    As far as the latter is concerned, on the 1st paragraph on page 2, the author writes: “… in any discussion on the criteria for the distribution of wealth, the focus should be directed to social or collective production rather than to individual and isolated production”. However, psychology is (also) connected to the individual behaviour. I think this point may be further elaborated. Also, a minor remark: after the title of Veblen’s article, I suggest adding the year of the article.
    In the last paragraph on page 2, the author argues: “all the objects at disposal of a person cannot be conceived “to belong” to him in any familiar-to-us sense of the word”. This point may be explained more.
    On p. 5, the author writes with respect to Commons: “the concept of ownership acquires manifold meanings, as it embraces the whole range of limits and opportunities of individual action within a social context”. This is correct and it is explicitly connected to the Commons’s definition of institutions.
    The author uses in the text the source “Commons 1924”. However, there is no such source in the reference list.
    On page 8, line 11, instead of “transactions”, the correct word within the parenthesis is “rationing”
    I think that all the section 3 needs a better connection with the main theme (interpretations of ownership) and the first two sections on Veblen and Commons respectively.
    The concluding section could be shorter, and part of the current “conclusions” may be used on a new discussion section which could help improving the afore-mentioned better connection among the article’s sections. In addition, this “discussion”, inter alia, could further elaborate on “the significant parallels” of the institutional approach with Marx’s analysis of social alienation of capitalistic society.
    General Comment: I think that a serious shortcoming of this work is the absence of secondary literature. For instance, the first two sections are based only on 3-4 original sources. Thus, I suggest that the author should add secondary literature throughout the whole paper reducing also the long quotations by original sources. Some more specific bibliographic suggestions:
    The various works by Geoffrey Hodgson and Malcolm Rutherford
    Almeida F. (2015). The psychology of early institutional economics: The instinctive approach of Thorstein Veblen’s conspicuous consumer theory, EconomiA ,16 226–234
    Cordes, C., (2005). Veblen’s “instinct of workmanship,” its cognitive foundations, and some implications for economic theory. J. Econ. Issues 39 (1),1–20.
    Papageorgiou, T., Katselidis, I. and Michaelides, P. (2013). Schumpeter, Commons, and Veblen on Institutions. American Journal of Economics and Sociology. 72, 5, November, 1232-1254.

  • Nuno Martins says:

    Review of The Interpretation of Ownership

    This article provides an overview of various approaches, including the original institutionalism of Thorstein Veblen and John R. Commons, the pragmatism of John Dewey and George Herbert Mead, and psychoanalysis stemming from Sigmund Freud and developed by many others. The aim is to draw insights from those various contributions that help understanding the notion of ownership.

    The summary provided in each section of the article of each set of contributions above is concise and interesting. However, it is difficult for the reader to find the connections between them, which only appears in a clearer way in the conclusion. The first set of contributors, Veblen and Commons, addressed the topic of ownership (and its origins) very directly, and the article starts by outlining their contributions, seminal to the school of original institutionalism. So, at this stage, the reader can follow the main argument of the article easily.

    But once the article moves into pragmatism, and especially when it addresses psychoanalysis, the reader may find it difficult to follow the argument. The pragmatist contributions seem to be invoked in order to explain individualism (addressed by Dewey), and a conception of the self (developed also by Mead), which seems an essential ingredient for a notion of individual ownership (which is also elaborated by Veblen within an anthropological explanation, and by Commons in terms of the rights and duties associated with it). And psychoanalysis seems to be drawn upon in order to explain how the self may be driven by a desire of control over things (here lies, it seems, the connection to ownership). But the links above appear in a clearer way only in the conclusion, and it would be helpful to further elaborate them along the text, thus signposting the direction of the argument followed in the article.

    Furthermore, while the connections between original institutionalism and pragmatism have been studied by many, the relevance of psychoanalysis in this context (and its compatibility with pragmatist social psychology, and even original institutionalism) would deserve perhaps greater elaboration.

    As it stands, the article actually reads more like a book proposal. Each of the sections of this article, all of which are interesting and well-written, raises enough questions for a book chapter in itself. A book would actually seem a more suitable format for addressing more fully the connections between the various literatures summoned in the article, and weaving a narrative where they could be more tightly articulated into an analysis of the notion of ownership.

    Alternatively, if the goal is to summarise the argument in a single article, it would then be helpful, as noted above, to signal earlier how pragmatist social psychology and psychoanalysis are used here for understanding the notion of ownership (while explaining the connections between those two sets of contributions), since the connection to ownership is not as clear to the reader here (at least before the conclusion) as it is when addressing original institutionalism. In this regard, the discussion made in the conclusion, regarding the relevance of pragmatist social psychology and psychoanalysis for the study of ownership, could fruitfully be moved to an earlier stage of the article.

  • Arturo Herman says:

    I agree with most of the referees’ comments: in particular, considering more the secondary literature on the issue and improving the connection between the various sections of the work.

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