Plenary Session 2

The Psychology of Property Law

The concept of property has several different names in the legal literature, including ‘psychological ownership’, ‘psychology of property’, ‘vernacular law’, and ‘living law’. These approaches share a concern for the everyday beliefs that people hold and use to negotiate their own rules, norms and practices, and these beliefs about property constitute an undeniable form of law. Yet although property is the subject of much theorising, very little is known about how ordinary people think about it.

‘The Psychology of Property Law’, a ground-breaking qualitative study conducted at the Adelaide Law School at The University of Adelaide, directly confronts this gap in the knowledge. This pilot project (2013-16) was led by Professor Paul Babie, Associate Professor Peter Burdon and Dr Francesca da Rimini. They collected, analysed and interpreted the informal, everyday beliefs about property held by a sample group of South Australian residents, an iterative process that generated an emergent theory about the idea of property.

To our knowledge, this is the first study in Australia empirically to examine common attitudes about property. Property rights are central to Australia’s social fabric. Tensions and litigation are increasing between owners and between individuals, governments and multinational corporations. By investigating property’s social and psychological dimensions, this project offers a unique insight into what underlies these disputes, and how they might be resolved.


Paul Babie

Professor Paul Babie

Dr Paul Babie holds a Personal Chair of Law in the Adelaide Law School of The University of Adelaide. He holds a BA in sociology from the University of Calgary, a BThSt from Flinders University, a LLB from the University of Alberta, a LLM from the University of Melbourne, and a DPhil in law from the University of Oxford.  He is a Barrister and Solicitor (inactive) of the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta (Canada), and an Associate Member of the Law Society of South Australia. His primary research interests include critical theory, private law theory, and property theory. He has published and spoken extensively in these fields and teaches property law, property theory, and Roman law.

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Peter Burdon

Dr Peter Burdon

Dr Peter Burdon is an Associate Professor at the Adelaide Law School and deputy chair of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature Ethics Specialist Group. The main focus of his research is the environmental crisis and how human society might transition their laws, governance structures and social relations so that they support the health and integrity of the planet. He also conducts research in legal theory and political philosophy. At present, he is writing a book on Hannah Arendt and the trial of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann. His research uses interdisciplinary materials from sociology, political science, economics, philosophy, jurisprudence, history and environmental studies. He is the postgraduate coordinator at the Adelaide Law School. In addition, he is a member of Public Law and Policy Research Unit and the Faculty of Professions Diversity and Inclusion Committee.

Francesca da Rimini

Dr Francesca da Rimini

Dr Francesca da Rimini is a research associate both at the Adelaide Law School of The University of Adelaide, and also in the Social and Political Change Group of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and in the Human-Centred Technology Design research centre of the Faculty of Engineering and Information Technology, at the University of Technology Sydney. She holds a DipT and a BEd from the South Australian College of Advanced Education, and an MA and PhD in humanities and social sciences from the University of Technology Sydney. She also has a long history as an artist and writer in the field of media arts, and was a founding member of the cyberfeminist art group VNS Matrix. Her research interests include historic and new collective forms of political agency and mobilisation, precarious labour in the academy and the cultural production sector, emergent forms of knowledge production and property exchange within informational capitalism, and experimental poetics.